Andy Enfield remembers his free throw shooting percentage in college, down to the tenth of a percent.
Of course, it’s hard to forget if it was an NCAA record. For 17 years, Enfield’s mark of 92.5 percent shooting from the foul line when he played at Johns Hopkins University was the highest in the history books. It’s a rather unknown fact about the men’s basketball coach at USC, and he doesn’t mind.
“You don’t have to quote me on this,” he said, recalling his percentage. “I don’t like to talk about myself.”
It’s a common theme for Enfield. Mention the reason why he came across USC’s radar — his rise to fame as the head coach at the Florida Gulf Coast team that made an improbable Cinderella run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2013 — and he’ll credit the players he had on that team. Ask about how he’s turned USC from a perennial Pac-12 bottom feeder to a team with realistic Final Four hopes, and he’ll list off his coaching staff and point to the work the players have put in.
“I’m only as good as my coaching staff and players,” he said. “That’s what it takes to build a program.”
A genuine coach
Sitting behind his desk in his office on the ground floor of the Galen Center, Enfield can appear imposing. He is tall, lanky and speaks with a distinct drawl. Every word seems calculated and thought-out.
But beneath his serious exterior lies a funny, genuine man, according to his players. Senior guard and team captain Jordan McLaughlin, who was part of Enfield’s initial recruiting class and has played under him all four years, said Enfield has helped him improve each season as a player.
“As a person, he’s even better,” McLaughlin said. “He’s become a part of my family.”
Enfield loves to joke, even at awkward times.
“Even when we’re in a dark situation, he’ll find a way to make light of it,” sophomore guard Jonah Mathews said. “Corny jokes, but they’re kind of funny.”
Senior guard Elijah Stewart, another member of Enfield’s original recruiting class, has also heard many of Enfield’s attempts at humor.
“He always talks about his playing days,” Stewart said. “Sometimes, he’ll make a joke like, ‘I could give you 30 [points] if you’re playing defense like that.’”
Or, Mathews said, whenever he shoots a deep 3-pointer, Enfield pounces.
“It’s not the Santa Monica Pier,” Enfield will say to Mathews, who is from Santa Monica.
It’s this atmosphere that makes players comfortable. Enfield gives his players leeway on the court.
“He gives us offensive freedom,” Stewart said. “If you break the play, you better make [the shot]. He has trust in us.”
Enfield also lets his players explore different aspects of the game, not limiting them to just what their strengths may be.
“If it works, he continues with it, even draws up a play for you,” Stewart said.
McLaughlin said that Enfield has an open-door policy for his players off the court.
“Nobody’s afraid to walk up to him and talk to him,” McLaughlin said. “He’s really approachable. It goes a long way. Especially as a head coach of a team, you don’t want your players to be scared to talk to you. It allows us to talk to him whenever we need to.”
And the topics extend beyond basketball.
“Sometimes, you’ve got programs [where] coaches will just talk to you about basketball stuff,” Mathews said. “But Coach Enfield will talk to you about class, about family, about anything, really.”
Mathews added that Enfield is not a “fake guy” — as in, genuine and honest.
“He’ll tell you straight-up,” Mathews said. “He’s not going to beat around the bush, on the court or off the court.”
Enfield, who turned 48 this year, has spent his life in basketball. Hailing from Shippensburg, Pa., a small town three hours west of Philadelphia with a population of less than 6,000, Enfield watched his father, Bill, coach the local ninth grade basketball team and then the high school varsity team.
“I was in a basketball family,” he said. “Basketball was my favorite and my best sport, so I decided to quit all the other sports I played — baseball, football, track and field — and just concentrate on basketball.”
His strength was his jump shot. He was a sharpshooter in high school, and when the 3-point line was introduced during his college days, he shot nearly 50 percent from beyond-the-arc at Johns Hopkins.
Enfield’s shooting touch launched his coaching career. Post-college, and armed with an MBA from the University of Maryland after graduating from John Hopkins with an economics degree, Enfield started a shooting consulting business called All Net Business. He produced an instructional video on shooting techniques, and offered his services to NBA teams and players.
At first, he said, it was a struggle to attract clients.
“It was challenging to try to create a market, so to speak, because it wasn’t as prevalent — there weren’t a lot of specialization coaches in the ’80s and ’90s,” Enfield said.
He eventually found players, and by 1994, the Milwaukee Bucks brought him on as a shooting coach. In 1998, he received a promotion, jumping to an assistant coaching role under Rick Pitino with the Boston Celtics.
After a stint outside basketball as vice president of a health care startup, Enfield went back to the coaching ranks in 2006 as an assistant at Florida State. It was there that he started a family with his wife, Amanda, a model who has been on the covers of Vogue, Maxim and Elle (in an oft-reported story, they did indeed meet in 2003 when Enfield, through a mutual friend, offered her a ride from New York City to Boston for an NCAA Tournament game), with two of his three children born in Tallahassee, Fla.
In 2011, he landed his first head coaching gig at Florida Gulf Coast — and two years later, in the wake of Dunk City fame, he got the call from USC. And he said, “yes,” despite knowing he would be moving an entire family, with three young children, across the country.
“Hopefully, it’s beneficial,” Enfield said of his thinking at the time. “Sometimes you just don’t know. You just take a chance. My wife was on board.”
Enfield carried over his career experiences — the shooting expertise, the business acumen — to USC. The first thing he did was bring in assistants that he believed would help build his program.
“At the time, you appreciate the opportunity you’re given as a head coach when you come to USC, and then you hire a great staff,” he said. “Very thankful to coaches we hired and their creativity and vision to try to put a plan in place to build a program the way we thought it could be built.”
And on the court, Enfield’s shooting advice has worked wonders for his players. According to McLaughlin, Enfield has one-on-one sessions with players, 15 minutes before practice begins.
“He has a shooting strap that we use to keep our thumb out of the shot,” McLaughlin said. “Just getting your form right, practicing form shooting. He does that with everyone.”
The change in McLaughlin’s shooting was immediate — the point guard went from shooting 27 percent from 3-point range his freshman year to 42 percent his sophomore year.
Mathews, too, has seen positive results from Enfield’s mentoring. He’s learned to get his thumb out when rotating the ball, a minor tweak that he said has improved his shot.
It’s all been a gradual process, and the results are coming in gradual waves. USC won just 11 games in Enfield’s first season, but that number increased to 12 the following year, then to 21 and last season 26, when the team came within a few points of advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.
This season, the Trojans entered the campaign ranked No. 10 in the preseason AP Poll, their highest preseason ranking since the 1974-75 season. McLaughlin said that with higher expectations, Enfield has become stricter.
“We’re not going to be ranked No. 10 and blow it all away,” McLaughlin said. “When you’re ranked 10, it comes with more responsibility. You’ve got to work that much harder.”
Stewart thinks Enfield has gained more confidence, now that he’s among the top coaches in the nation.
“Despite the confidence boost, he’s not changed his demeanor,” Stewart said. “He might put on some Louis Vuitton suits or stuff like that.”
When adversity hits
On Sunday night, the shot doctor’s team wasn’t making its shots.
USC was playing No. 16 Texas A&M at the Galen Center in a big test against another top-20 team. And it was laying an egg.
USC’s best player, junior forward Bennie Boatwright, was bricking open looks from distance. Stewart, a knockdown shooter, couldn’t buy a 3-pointer. Neither could Mathews, who made just one of eight field goal attempts.
The packed student section cleared out midway through the second half — its loudest cheer of the game coming when it won free Chick-fil-A.
The Trojans shot just 28 percent as a team and were a woeful 26 percent from deep. They scored a season-low 59 points, lost by 16 and dropped out of the top-10 in the rankings.
Enfield could’ve easily chalked the loss up to a bad shooting night. He could’ve singled out players for taking ill-advised shots or made an excuse about a post-Thanksgiving hangover. Instead, he took the blame, head-on.
“I’ll take the blame for that,” Enfield said in the postgame press conference. “Whatever I did to prepare the team obviously did not work. Whether it’s their legs are tired, or we didn’t get enough shooting in this week or maybe I had the wrong rotations in. This game is on me. This is the worst we’ve shot the ball from the field since we’ve been here in five years. It’s on me.”
This is Andy Enfield in a nutshell — the genuine, straight-up figure who has turned the men’s basketball program into a Final Four contender in less than five years. In good times, he credits everyone else. In bad times, he blames himself.
There could be more bad times to come. The elephant in the room this season, even as the team aims for historic success, will be what comes of the criminal case against associate head coach Tony Bland, who pleaded not guilty to charges that include wire fraud and bribery after he allegedly funneled money to families of recruits and offered to lead players to agents in exchange for cash. Sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton, a starter last season, is likely one of the players caught up in the scandal; he has yet to play in a game this year, with the school admitting issues regarding eligibility.
The ramifications could be serious, if the NCAA chooses to slap sanctions on the program or if an internal investigation currently being conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh, who USC hired, leads to self-imposed punishments.
Enfield deflected questions about the pending case.
“It has been emotional: It has been challenging on a personal level and on a program level,” Enfield said. “However, right now our focus is what we can control.”
What they can control is winning with this current group of players, which might be USC’s best roster assembled in decades. There are bona fide veterans in McLaughlin, Stewart, Boatwright and junior forward Chimezie Metu. There are promising sophomores in Mathews, Melton and forward Nick Racocevic. There is Derryck Thornton, a redshirt sophomore transfer guard from Duke. And there is an impressive crop of freshmen, including Charles O’Bannon Jr. and Jordan Usher.
“This is what, in our eyes, a program should look like,” Enfield said. “You’ve got a good mix of upperclassmen that are experienced and you have new players coming in who need to get improved.”
But Enfield doesn’t want to talk about how great he’s done or whether everything’s going to plan. He just wants to see his players improve, and he’ll go from there.
“A successful season is to have these players reach their potential,” Enfield said. “We don’t know how good this team can be, but we’re going to find out.”