March Madness is right around the corner. Guess who won’t be participating? If you guessed “The USC men’s basketball team for the third year in a row,” pat yourself on the back. If you haven’t heard, Trojan basketball has been in a bit of a slump as of late.
The common thing to say in this situation is, “We’re just not a basketball school.” Oh, Trojan faithful. There are no “basketball schools” or “football schools” — thinking only makes them so. And Trojan roundball fans have probably been doing a lot of thinking, especially after another letdown against “that other school across town” last Saturday.
At the root of this thinking is recruiting. USC dashed the Bruins’ hopes in football recruiting last week with the addition of two five-star recruits in the eleventh hour. Consensus national top-10 recruit Adoree’ Jackson in particular was clear in saying that a certain running back during the Pete Carroll era (the one not named Lendale White) was influential in his decision to don the cardinal and gold. And why wouldn’t it? USC has a star-studded pedigree to rest its laurels upon during the football recruiting process.
To most people, this “pedigree” could similarly be applied to UCLA basketball. For every Troy Polamalu, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews the Trojans send to the NFL, UCLA sends a Kevin Love or Russell Westbrook to the NBA. The reason this analogy seems tenuous is because it is: The vast majority of blue chip basketball recruits stick around for one or two years before leaving for the NBA, whereas in football, players are required to stay at least three years.
This essentially leaves each basketball program at the mercy of a recruiting carousel: Each year a roster is filled out with veteran players and, depending on the program, a couple of young “blue chip” recruits to lead the pack — unless you’re Kansas or Duke, in which case you’re “at the mercy” of a constant blue chip recruit carousel.
USC has its own top-flight player in the 2014 recruiting class in Jordan McLaughlin of Etiwanda High School in Etiwanda, Calif. The point guard is nationally ranked as the sixth best at the position by ESPN, and received offers from Kansas, Indiana, and “that one basketball school across town.”
McLaughlin turned down all of those schools and is officially signed to play for USC head coach Andy Enfield and the Trojans beginning next season.
Considering this result, creating a program of top recruits in basketball seems slightly less complicated than the process for building a football team insofar as that it relies heavily on the potential minutes provided for the recruit to showcase his skills before moving on to the NBA. USC’s relative dearth of top-shelf talent allows recruits to showcase their abilities to NBA scouts relatively unobstructed.
Enfield’s coaching style in his tenure with Florida Gulf Coast has already made an impact in the recruiting arena: He signed nationally ranked power forward prospect Malik Price-Martin despite offers from more “basketball-focused” schools closer to home including Louisville, Kansas State and Memphis. Price-Martin cited Enfield’s wide-open style of play as the reason for choosing the Trojans.
Similar to how the Trojan football program’s pedigree precedes it, Enfield’s reputation and coaching style also precede him. The former maestro of “Dunk City” can parlay USC’s vast resources and impressive facilities to coax recruits into “buying into” the Trojan Family. The signing of Price-Martin and McLaughlin are both steps in the right direction for USC to rise to national prominence as a basketball program.
The short tenure of basketball recruits also translates to a shorter timetable for a turnaround. Regardless of human resources, it will be on the Trojans to return to winning ways beginning next season. Enfield’s one-year probationary period is coming to a close, and the Trojans will be expected not only to be competitive in games — which they’ve managed to do all season — but to actually win games, and land an NCAA Tournament bid.
All things considered, it’s been another “rebuilding” year for the first full season after the Kevin O’Neill era, one that Andy Enfield will certainly remember. And despite the consensus focusing on USC’s shortcomings in basketball this year, it only stands to reason that it will get better from here.
Euno Lee is a senior majoring in English literature. He is also managing editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Euno What Time it is,” runs Wednesdays.