LOS ANGELES -- Getting official word that De'Anthony Melton won't play for Southern California this season only intensified his teammates' emotions.
Melton, a sophomore guard who averaged 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season, was ruled out earlier in the week. He had not suited up in any games as the school investigated what it initially referred to as "a potential issue regarding eligibility."
Melton was one player mentioned in the FBI probe into college basketball, which revealed a pay-for-play scandal in which schools would funnel money through shoe companies to players in exchange for their commitment.
Federal prosecutors alleged that David Elliott, a Melton family friend, accepted $5,000 with the understanding that he would steer Melton toward a particular agent and financial adviser when the guard entered the NBA.
Melton's attorney, Vicki Podberesky, has said there is no evidence that an exchange took place. However, while USC investigated Elliott, other NCAA violations surfaced. Melton cooperated by giving USC cellphone records and bank statements.
"Based on information discovered through its internal investigation regarding the receipt of extra benefits, primarily to a close family friend of De'Anthony Melton, USC has concluded that De'Anthony will not compete with the USC men's basketball team in the 2017-18 season," the school's statement read.
Podberesky has maintained throughout the investigation that Melton knew nothing about any violations.
USC coach Andy Enfield has been a staunch defender of Melton, insisting the player did nothing wrong.
"As tough as it on him as a person and on the team, he continues to amaze me," the coach said. "We saw something special in him when we recruited him. We were only Pac-12 school to offer him a scholarship."
Enfield said the day Melton's fate was announced the guard returned from an off-campus appointment and went to practice, where he "dominated."
"Most kids wouldn't even come to practice," Enfield said. "Then he stays after for 45 minutes and shoots by himself with two of our managers."
Melton's eligibility issues came to light after USC assistant Tony Bland was one of four assistant coaches nationally accused of accepting bribes to steer players toward agents, financial advisers and apparel companies as part of an FBI investigation. Bland was arrested in September and pleaded not guilty in November to four charges relating to bribery and wire fraud.
Melton, who isn't allowed to travel with the team, hasn't spoken publicly about the investigation. He continues to have his teammates' support.
"You would never know anything had happened to him," guard Jonah Mathews said. "He comes in smiling every day."
Forward Shaqquan Aaron sat out the 2015-16 season after transferring from Louisville.
"I just tell him hang in there and keep working," Aaron said. "When you get back on the court, use that anger as fuel to dominate."
Metu worn a white #FREEDMELT T-shirt during postgame news conferences.
"Punishing innocent ppl...I see what y'all on now (at)USC-Athletics," Metu tweeted. "He didn't do anything wrong but let's suspend him bc we're selfish and have to protect our image' ...makes sense."
USC's statement described Melton as "a valued member of our program."
"He will have options for his future at USC, including remaining in school on scholarship while continuing to work on his degree and practicing with the team, and potentially compete for the Trojans in the 2018-19 season," it read.