By Rich Ruben
When head coach Andy Enfield took the USC job eight years ago, he anticipated that he would face some rebuilding.
“Anytime a change is made there will be a new staff coming in and an expectation of player turnover,” Enfield said. “I didn’t know what to expect when I first took the job, but wanted to get immediate help and plan for the next couple of years… Usually when you take over a program after a coach has been fired, the program needs to be rebuilt, and a coach looking at a job will try to evaluate what he is walking into.”
First on Andy’s list was to fill out his staff. Jason Hart, Chris Capko and strength and conditioning coach Kurtis Shultz have been with him all eight years and he credits them for a significant part of the Trojans’ success.
“We have a great coaching staff and strength coach,” Enfield said.
When he arrived at USC, two freshmen, Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic, had been signed by the prior regime and Enfield expected the pair to be part of the new foundation of Trojan basketball.The Enfield era really got started with the signing of Jordan McLaughlin in the fall of his first season and the spring signing of Elijah Stewart. The Metus, Boatwrights, Mathews, Rakocevics, and Meltons followed and the USC march upward was underway.
Enfield’s Goal Was To Build A Program For Sustained Success
“Our goal from the first staff meetings was to build a program in a way to have sustained success,” Enfield said. “Our short term goal was to be as competitive as we could and build the program.”
The history of USC basketball has been sprinkled with great players and teams but Trojan basketball had been an inconsistent rollercoaster. The fan base and interest in Southern California were low. This job needed someone with vision and Enfield has succeeded where others did not.
The Trojans Are Becoming A National Brand
Enfield has brought sustained success to Troy. The Trojans are 46-16 over the last two years. The 46 wins are behind only Baylor and Kansas from the power conferences. They have the second most wins in the Pac-12 over the last four years, one behind Oregon.
USC has 133 wins in the last six years, fifteenth most among the power conferences. And importantly for Trojan fans, USC has beaten UCLA four straight and are 9-5 against the Bruins over the last six years.
One hundred percent of the players who have played at USC for four years have graduated on time and JMac and Metu graduated in three years.
“Recruits and their families in Southern California and nationally now view USC basketball differently,” Enfield said. “We’ve had success on the court, have been in the rankings and are now in the Sweet 16. Recruits and their families have a greater comfort level and greater desire to go to USC.”
“Southern California recruits had to see success on the court, players getting to the NBA and players graduating on time. We have been successful and are now seen on a regional and national stage.”
This Season Has Been Very Important
A few years ago the Trojans were ranked ninth in the preseason polls. Before the first game D’Anthony Melton, perhaps the team’s best player, was suspended by the administration and Bennie Boatwright was injured for much of the season. Nevertheless the Trojans finished in second place in the conference regular season and lost the conference tournament title game. They were snubbed by the selection committee and missing the tournament “hurt our program.”
“We were decent the next season” but had major injuries to Kevin Porter, Bennie and Elijah Stewart and the team had an average season.
“Last season was frustrating. We looked forward to the post season,” Enfield said. “That’s why this year is so important.”
The Rebuild At Florida Gulf Coast Was Much Easier
“At the Pac-12 or power conference level it is different,” Enfield said of rebuilding.
When he took the FGCU job in the spring he was able to sign players within weeks who were still available. The exceptional players had all signed but some good players at the Atlantic Sun Conference level were still available.
“We signed a couple of core guys and by the second year we had a very good team,” he said. “At the power conference level (the power five football conferences and the Big East) it is difficult to sign elite freshmen. Ninety percent of the freshmen sign in the fall.”
New NCAA Recruiting Rules Have Made This Spring Very Unique
The NCAA enacted two major rules that will impact this year and the future. The first is a one time rule which provides that this season will not count against a player’s eligibility. Stated differently, this season will not count as one of the four a player can play or one of the five years allowed with a red shirt year. In effect, every player in college basketball will be treated as if he red shirted.
The second permanent rule change allows any player to transfer to another school and be immediately eligible. This rule applies to schools in the same conferences
“There are 980 players in the transfer portal as of this (Saturday) morning, and more will come when the season is completed,” Enfield said. “There are approximately 355 Division 1 teams… This will be the most unique off season in college basketball (history).
“The portal gets overwhelming quickly. We need to focus in on players we think can help and we have a chance to get.”
One problem Enfield noted is that “we have no idea who is coming back.” The uncertainty especially applies to the three grad transfers though any player can leave and play somewhere else next year. The same situation exists at many schools and it makes spring 2021 recruiting unique.
USC has been linked to several players in the portal, but Enfield noted that “(A) lot of stuff in the media is very selective and there is a lot of false information out there…. Our staff has reached out to certain players in the portal.”
The Trojans want to be in contact early with players they may pursue seriously in the next couple of weeks.
This Season’s Trojan Team Has Great Camaraderie
“The assistant coaches did a terrific job in evaluating talent and personalities of players to fit within our program (from the transfer portal last spring).” Enfield said. “It’s important to do as good a background check as quickly as possible to get players to help us win, buy into the program and be a good representative of USC.”
“This group has been exceptionally mature,” he continued. “They work hard and are wonderful to be around. The camaraderie among players and among staff and players has been tremendous.”
The Trojan blueprint going forward is to build around talented freshmen who will play for the Trojans for multiple years, add a top recruit whenever they can, and fill in the roster thru the portal. “I love our freshman recruiting class.”
Enfield’s Comments About Boubacar and Isaiah Mobley
“Boubacar is extremely athletic and our best athlete by far,” Enfield said. “He is going to be very good. He came from Mali four years ago with no prior high school or AAU experience. He’s a wonderful young man and a special kid.”
In answering my question about how to explain Isaiah’s greatly improved three point and free throw shooting over the last month, Enfield said simply: “Players improve. He has worked very hard on his shooting and has become much more confident.”
What To Look For In The Oregon Game
I asked Enfield what stats fans could look at to measure how the game was going. “
The three point line,” Enfield said. “Oregon is a dangerous three point shooting team. They run a five out offense. It doesn’t matter if we use a man or zone defense, we still have to defend the three point line. All of their starters can shoot the three.”
He added that rebounding will be important and the Trojans will need to contain Oregon’s drives and penetration.
USC basketball is in a very different place than when Andy Enfield took over the reins. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic for the future. In the next few months we will see how the 2021-22 roster shapes out.
In the meantime, beat the Ducks!