October 23, 2013 by Marshall Kelner
By Marshall Kelner
Before he even coached a single game at his new home, new head coach Andy Enfield has already changed what people think of when they hear “USC basketball”, especially in the Southern California area. On this blog, we take pride in tracking the ins and outs of the program every day. However, most don’t have time for that. They form quick opinions based off what they hear and read. And right now, for the first time since the Tim Floyd era, they are hearing and reading almost nothing but positive things (for good reason) about the USC basketball program. Perception is reality.
Think about it like a political campaign. When a scandal comes out, people don’t take time to thoroughly and rationally analyze the situation. They normally just assume the person is a hack, cheat, what have you. They assume whatever is being reported is fact. The candidate is often sunk immediately. We also see it in sports and we’ve seen it at USC with the Reggie Bush scandal. Most people outside of USC assume they are cheaters, without really taking time to learn all the facts. That’s just the way it is. I’m not bemoaning that fact. I’m happy to say, though, that the opposite of a political scandal has occurred at USC in Andy Enfield’s first few months on the job.
Let’s go through what Enfield has accomplished since being hired on April 2:
- The first thing he did actually came before he was hired, and was actually the reason he earned the job. It happened in the magical month of March. He led little known Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16, defeating heavyweights Georgetown and San Diego State along the way. More on San Diego state to come. Enfield was a no-name to almost all fans before the run, and two wins vaulted him into the national spotlight. Fans fell in love with him, his supermodel wife, and his charm.
- He won the press conference. People usually make too much of that type of stuff so I won’t, but everything matters.
- He hired a rock star coaching staff. First, he swooped in and grabbed Tony Bland from San Diego State. Bland was the top recruiter for Steve Fisher (the coach of the “Fab 5”) at SDSU and put together several impressive classes for the Aztecs. He is an LA native and is known as one of the best young recruiters in the nation. Then, Enfield added another accomplished So Cal guy in Jason Hart, and rounded it out with Kevin Norris, one of his assistants at FGCU.
- He acquired transfers Katin Reinhardt, Darion Clark, D.J. Haley, and Pe’Shon Howard. Reinhardt, in particular, has the potential to do big time things at SC after a strong freshman season at UNLV last year. Transfers are always critical for new head coaches at the beginning to fill out the roster, and Enfield found what look to be some good ones. They will help this year and beyond. Reinhardt and Clark each have three years of eligibility remaining, which is rare for a transfer, and make them basically identical to regular recruits.
- He received verbal commitments from two solid recruits, one from each coast. The first commitment he earned was from Malik Price-Martin (6’9’’ forward), a three or four-star recruit, depending where you look. Martin is from Miami and shows Enfield hasn’t lost his base from his FGCU days. The second commit, Jordan McLaughlin (Etiwanda HS, 6’0’’ point guard) was more critical, though. McLaughlin is a four or five-star recruit. All you need to know about him, however, is this: The final four schools he was considering were: USC, UCLA, Indiana, and Kansas. That’s big time. Think back to the Kevin O’Neill days. SC wasn’t in the mix for those types of players. The other schools their recruits were considering were places like Santa Clara, Nevada, Portland, and Oregon State. Enfield added Jabari Craig (6’11’’ center) to the mix a couple weeks ago, as he continues to round out the class. The big target, of course, is the top player in California: Stanley Johnson. The momentum Enfield and his staff have generated in recruiting certainly doesn’t hurt them in their chances to land him.
- Almost every story written about Enfield has been positive, especially in contrast to UCLA. Sure, there have been the usual doubters, but that’s always bound to happen. In the opening weeks after taking the job, Enfield was making the rounds on the late night talk shows, including an appearance with Jay Leno. At the same time, new UCLA coach Steve Alford was caught up defending his stance on a controversial situation at one of his former stops, the University of Iowa. On top of that, before they have even played a game, the perception is that USC plays a fast, up tempo brand of basketball and that UCLA is slow and boring. That stuff matters. While recruits certainly take more time breaking each school down than fans do, they still hear the common chatter. Some of the top high school kids are often good friends as well, and they talk. USC is winning that battle right now against the established basketball school across town. It’s “in” to go to USC and Enfield is just getting started.
As good as all of this sounds if you are an SC fan, every little thing matters. There will inevitably be bumps along the way. Stanley Johnson could choose to go elsewhere, big injuries could take place, what have you. The struggles of the football program aren’t doing Enfield and company any favors.
This leads me into my final point. I’ve heard a lot of fans and pundits say that this season doesn’t matter and that it’s all about next year and beyond. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m not saying Enfield needs to take his team to a final four or even deep into the tournament in year one. But recruits will be watching. They will be watching to see how his brand of basketball fits in the Pac-12 and if he can coach with the big boys. Stanley Johnson has openly said that he will wait to make his commitment until the spring, and how the Trojans perform will be a factor.
They may not be “his players” because Enfield didn’t recruit them, but they are now essentially his. It’s his team, his program. Too often in sports and society we pass the blame off to someone else. Enfield doesn’t seem like that type of guy. He’s taken ownership and expressed an expectation to win right away. Making the tournament would go a long way for the future of the program. A six-win season would be one of those bumps in the road I referred to earlier. It’s not to say that they couldn’t recover from it. However, when perception is reality, everything matters. You have to try and win each and every day in everything you do. Enfield is doing that and is well on his way to building a winning tradition for USC basketball. I couldn’t be more excited to watch it unfold.