Kelner: Response to Thamel’s hit piece on USC

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January 7, 2018 by Marshall Kelner

By Marshall Kelner

On December 30, the day after USC lost its Pac-12 opener at home to Washington, Yahoo Sports writer Pete Thamel wrote a column about the Trojans. It should be characterized as nothing short of a hit piece on the program and specifically head coach Andy Enfield.

After reading it, my first thought was, “What did Andy Enfield do to Thamel? Did he kill his dog?” The outright smugness and vindictiveness are evident throughout. It seems that people insist on being negative anytime USC Basketball is in the national spotlight.

The truth is that Andy Enfield has done a spectacular job rebuilding the USC program, culminating in a school-record 26 wins last season and a near Sweet 16 appearance. I felt it was only fair to him and his team to respond to each unfair point in Thamel’s vicious hit piece. So, here we go.

“Without blaming the feds, the culpability for USC’s free fall to one of the sport’s biggest disappointments should be directed to Enfield himself.” Really? Is it Enfield’s fault that, aside from the ineligible De’Anthony Melton, he was missing three other key players in the loss to Princeton due to injury? Is Enfield to blame for Derryck Thornton’s shoulder injury that has caused him to miss four of USC’s five losses? Most importantly, is it Enfield’s fault that USC’s extremely strict compliance department still refuses to allow Melton to play despite not being accused of any wrongdoing?

Thamel acts like everything is so simple. It’s never fair to place 100% of the blame on someone when a team struggles to start the season. If you had to allocate the blame, however, very little should be pointed at Enfield. Without question, the biggest reason for USC’s slow start has been the key players missing from the court, especially Melton. Also, it’s quite early to write off the Trojans. They now have all the injured players back and hopefully Melton will join them at some point as well. They have enough talent to win the Pac-12. With a win over a poor Stanford team tonight, they will be 3-1 in conference play.

-After rightfully criticizing USC’s lackluster defensive effort against Washington, Thamel bashes Enfield for calling out his players after the game. Here’s part of what Enfield said: “But tonight, I was very disappointed in some of our upperclassmen defensively. You can blame me for not motivating them or getting them to play up to their capability. They have to go home and look in the mirror and come back and play better basketball if we’re going to have a chance to win games in this league.”

Enfield rarely does that, but understandably felt it was necessary after allowing the Huskies to shoot 67%. Evidently, the message has been received. In their subsequent victories over Washington State and California, the Trojans held each to 39.7% shooting.

Still, Thamel wrote, “That precious accountability pretzel logic would make Gregg Popovich throw up in his mouth.” Pete, have you ever watched a Gregg Popovich press conference? In case you haven’t, here’s one example for you. Popovich might call out his team more than any coach in basketball. Ultimately, players have to be accountable for their performance. Enfield’s players are adults playing in a major D-1 college basketball conference. Their defensive effort was unacceptable and that’s on them, not Enfield.

-Next on Thamel’s hit list? The Trojan bench. “USC’s bench had one engaged walk-on who’d pop up occasionally – congrats, Kurt Karis – and appeared emotionally invested. Everyone else on the Trojan bench appeared ambivalent.” This is a veteran team with guys who have been together for a long time by college basketball standards. If you follow the team, you know what a tightly knit group they are. I didn’t hear much complaining from Thamel about the bench reaction after the dominant win over Cal, but you can judge for yourself here 

-Thornton was the next Trojan to feel Thamel’s wrath. “Things were so loose for USC that injured guard Derryck Thornton, who was on the bench during the game, was sitting on a stairwell during halftime chatting on FaceTime. Let’s just say that Thornton’s former coach at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski, would have spontaneously combusted if he’d seen that in Durham. If Friday night’s tilt against Washington were a match-up of engagement, enthusiasm and culture, it was a No. 1 versus No. 16 match-up.”

First of all, Thornton wasn’t playing in the game. Second, how does Thamel know that Enfield didn’t “spontaneously combust” behind the scenes on Thornton? Just because we didn’t see it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Some things are best dealt with privately. It’s Enfield’s program and he has the right to make the rules and enforce them how he sees fit. Apparently, in half a season as head coach at Washington, Mike Hopkins already has a better “culture” in his program than Enfield does at USC. Hopkins appears to be a promising head coach, but let’s pump the breaks a little bit. As soon as he turns his program around the way Enfield has, then we can talk about how great his culture is. Here’s what Enfield’s culture has produced in win totals during his tenure: 11, 12, 21, 26. Is that good, Pete?

“The Galen Center on Friday night looked one-tenth full at tip and felt as intimidating as a growling Chihuahua in a starlet’s purse.” Pete, please come up with some better metaphors. Seriously, though, I suppose this is Enfield’s fault as well? Anyone who has casually followed USC basketball knows about the struggles with attendance. This has always been a problem. I could write a separate post on this, but that’s for another day. The point is, to pin the blame on Enfield for this is outrageous. He’s the head coach, not the Director of Marketing.

“Enfield may be frustrated at the lack of information, but he’s the one who hired Bland, made him associate head coach and set the culture that led to the alleged corruption.” This one is a doozy. First, we still don’t know if Bland did anything wrong. You are still innocent until proven guilty in this country. According to the LA Times, there’s some big time questions with the FBI’s account of what happened. Second, suppose the charges against Bland are true. It’s now Enfield’s responsibility to monitor his 37-year-old Associate Head Coach at all times? Third, is Enfield also responsible for the culture that led to the school-record 26 wins last season?

“Enfield can downplay the role that the FBI has played in USC’s disappointment, but that just highlights what a poor job he’s done coaching this team.” Enfield is downplaying the role that the FBI has played because he doesn’t want to make excuses, but let’s be real. Melton’s absence has been a huge deal. He led the Pac-12 in steals last season as a freshman. He’s projected as a first round draft pick. He’s USC’s Swiss Army Knife. He’s a playmaker and allows Jordan McLaughlin to rest, instead of playing virtually every minute of every game. While the loss to Washington was certainly disappointing, it came on the heels of an extremely impressive victory in the Diamond Head Classic. Enfield led the Trojans to three wins in four days, one coming over a very good Middle Tennessee squad. I guess Thamel wasn’t watching.

Also, not once in his piece does Thamel mention the fact that Enfield’s teams have improved every single year since arriving at USC. Not once does he mention their two NCAA Tournament victories last year. Not once does he mention Enfield’s outstanding player development skills. Chimezie Metu has gone from a raw freshman into a potential NBA lottery pick. Jordan McLaughlin is now one of the best point guards in the country. Nick Rakocevic went from a non-factor to a key piece of the rotation and a frequent starter. The list goes on and on.

It’s not easy to be the head coach at USC. Small home crowds are common. You’re competing with UCLA, Arizona, and Oregon for players. There’s not much positive history. Despite that, Enfield has put USC back on the map.

“But perhaps the best thing Enfield can do is take a long look in the accountability mirror before suggesting his players do the same.” Again, these are adults playing big time college basketball. They will survive their coach calling them out one time when they allow 67% shooting. At what point do players have to take responsibility for their own play? The biggest reason for USC’s five losses is the absence of De’Anthony Melton and injuries, not Andy Enfield or his staff. Maybe Thamel should look in the accountability mirror. How many USC practices has he been to? How many USC games has he watched over the past three years? What beef does he have with Andy Enfield?

Thamel’s hit piece was extremely unfair to Andy Enfield and the entire USC program. It paints a completely inaccurate picture of what is going on. You might even call it fake news. The Trojans have played phenomenal defense the past two games, so evidently Enfield’s strategy of calling out his players worked, unlike Thamel’s absurd analysis.

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One thought on “Kelner: Response to Thamel’s hit piece on USC

  1. […] Yes, Pete Thamel, Galen Center is not the most intimidating place to play on the same night that the whole fan base is watching the Cotton Bowl (and the students are passed out at their hometown pubs). […]

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