Brian Chin | Daily TrojanHere to stay · Sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright drives the ball from the top of the key against a defender. After months spent on the sidelines due to injuries, Boatwright returned to the rotation last week.After the unexpected departures of guard Julian Jacobs and forward Nikola Jovanovic to the NBA draft at the end of last season, head coach Andy Enfield knew that looking forward he would have to rely heavily on young talent. At least, co-captain sophomore Bennie Boatwright would return after starting 32 of 34 games, averaging double-digit scoring, and tying a team-high 60 3-point shots made one year ago.A 6-foot-10-inch big man who stretches the floor and makes shots from upwards of 23 feet, Boatwright causes a match-up problem for all opposition. In the preseason he was named one of 20 players nationally to watch for the 2017 Karl Malone Award for the best power forward in Division I men’s basketball. However, two injuries have kept him off the court for most of this season. First, he missed two games as he nursed a hamstring injury that pestered his offseason.“It was tough working back,” Boatwright said before his mid-November debut. “But I feel like I’m a better player because of it.”At the time, Boatwright had no idea that he would play only four full games before an MCL sprain last November would have him sidelined for another two months.Boatwright finally returned this weekend, several weeks later than his initial prognosis suggested. His time away from the game not only pained him, but it also provided him an opportunity for growth. He’s been itching to return to action for weeks.“I’ve never been through something like that. I really love the game of basketball. I eat, sleep and live basketball,” Boatwright said after Monday’s practice. “I’ve learned a lot about patience these past weeks.”Yet, even in his absence, Boatwright has remained a presence on the team by serving as a mentor to the freshmen.“Just keep fighting” was his motto for the younger players — all of whom are always eager to listen and work hard, he claims.“He’s really helped us a lot,” freshman guard De’Anthony Melton said, “but not having him was huge for our development … especially having to play crunchtime minutes without him.”Although Boatwright has returned, Melton has retained his starting role — one he might not have earned this season had the sophomore remained healthy.“It’s nice to have these freshman develop quickly,” Enfield said. “With Bennie in the lineup, they probably would not have played as many minutes, but they did a good job taking advantage of the opportunity.”Boatwright, of course, made a tremendous impact in his return last weekend, tying his career-high 23 points at Washington, despite not feeling at his best with “heavy legs.”Enfield believes USC looks like a different team with his top-scorer in the lineup. In seven games with Boatwright, the Trojans have averaged 82.5 points, five more than in the 17 games without him.Known for his 3-point prowess, Boatwright adds a lot to this team on both ends of the court. In fact, with Boatwright’s 6-foot-10 frame in the post, Enfield can effectively mix up his defensive schemes.Lately, he’s been mostly limited to zone because of the team’s diminutive size in the post with junior Elijah Stewart, listed at 6-foot-5, starting at thefour-position. Last weekend, however, USC played a lot of man-to-man with Boatwright on the court and zone defense with him on the bench.“I try to guard bigger guys and stay in front of smaller guys,” Boatwright said. “I just try to work hard.”He also passes incredibly well to both his big and small teammates. He had seven assists in his weekend return including a couple alley-oop lobs to fellow big man, sophomore Chimezie Metu.“It’s really fun to be playing with him again,” Metu said. “We’re clicking. We’re rolling right now.”Boatwright and Metu have synergy. “[Metu’s] my boy,” Boatwright laughed. “I’ll throw it up to him. He’ll kick it out to me. We got that two-man game.” Although they have not played much together this season, Metu and Boatwright played all summer long on the same Drew League team. They immediately fell back in stride this past weekend, combining for 80 points, 25 rebounds and 12 assists. Chimezie and Bennie add energy to the whole team, junior co-captain Jordan Mclaughlin said. “They know where each other is going to be on the floor at all times, and they’re both great passers,” McLaughlin said. “They get everyone going.”This week, the Trojans get going with their second round of Pac-12 opponents. They have faced every team once, and now they will face seven teams once more. This time with Bennie Boatwright. With the postseason looming one month away from Wednesday, Boatwright returned not a moment too soon. While the freshmen have developed more than Enfield anticipated, Boatwright must be the star if USC makes a run in March.