Following a winless two-game road trip, the USC men’s basketball team currently sits at 9-10 on the year and 1-6 in Pac-12 play. Despite a highly touted freshman class, the best USC has seen in years, the Trojans look poised to finish with a losing record and sit at the bottom of the Pac-12 for a third consecutive year.
It wasn’t so long ago, however, that USC basketball seemed ready to make the jump into the Pac-12’s elite. The Trojans made the NCAA tournament three years in a row from 2007-2009 and were recruiting high level players, including NBA star guard Demar DeRozan, who were capable of bringing out a program that for so long was in the shadows of USC football.
Then the NCAA came asking questions.
Former guard and current NBA player O.J. Mayo had been accused of accepting benefits and cash from an agency in Northern California. Former head coach Tim Floyd was also accused of funneling the money to the agency. Mayo was found guilty, and Floyd then proceeded to step down as coach.
During the 2010 season, a year after the Trojans had won the Pac-10 tournament, USC announced it would be self-imposing a one-year postseason ban and would vacate all wins from the 2007-2008 season, Mayo’s one and only season at USC.
All the possibilities of building a long-lasting program that could contend for conference championships and make deep NCAA tournament runs were done.
The sanctions put even more pressure on a program that was struggling with the resignation of Floyd. During the investigation, Derrick Williams, an eventual No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft, decomitted from USC and went to Arizona, where he would win a Pac-10 championship and lead the Wildcats to an Elite Eight appearance.
Along with Williams, USC lost four other top recruits in Solomon Hill, Renardo Sidney, Noel Johnson and Lamont Jones. Hill and Jones would team up with Williams at Arizona and play key roles in the Wildcats’ 2010-11 Pac-10 championship run.
Furthermore, because of USC’s self-imposed postseason ban and recruiting restrictions, the program was able to only bring in one recruit for the 2011-2012 season, and the program never recovered.
The next three years would be hard to watch as the Trojans could only manage a record of 31-65, capped off by two last place finishes in the Pac-12 during that stretch.
I’m not trying to use these sanctions as an excuse for a program that sits in the middle of one of the nation’s largest recruiting hotbeds. I am simply trying to preach patience and give upset fans, especially those of whom are current USC students, an explanation for why the basketball team has been struggling so mightily as of late.
The Trojans have had a past with the NCAA that I highlighted in my previous column last Friday. For some reason the NCAA just loves to punish USC, mostly unjustly, and while the football team has faired quite well through crippling sanctions, the basketball team has had a hard time turning things around.
USC hired Andy Enfield to help right the ship for a struggling program, especially win terms of recruiting. And he has done just that. This season, Enfield landed a top-20 recruiting class, led by guards Elijah Stewart and Jordan McLaughlin, and two ESPN Top 100 recruits have already signed on for next season.
A coach doesn’t just turn around a program in a year or two, however. It takes time. Heck, even Coach Krzyzewski struggled during his first years at Duke, and now he has 1,000 wins and four national championships to his name.
I’m not saying that Enfield will become the next Coach K, but I am a true believer that the former Florida Gulf Coast coach can succeed at USC.
USC has never been a big basketball school like that university across the 10 for reasons unknown, but it has all the resources that could push it to the top — state-of-the-art athletic facilities, a strong fan base, an athletic director that wants to win now, and yeah, it’s in beautiful, sunny Southern California, a main draw for recruits.
Nick Barbarino is a junior majoring in business administration. His column “Beyond the Arc” runs Fridays.