Enfield turning cynics into believers

In the midst of all the excitement surrounding the hiring of USC men’s basketball coach Andy Enfield, I remained a bit wary. As the old saying goes, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. This time I wanted to remain impervious to the standard optimism associated with a new hire, and yet another promise of establishing a formidable USC basketball program.

The first time I was fooled was a result of the magical Elite Eight run that was supposed to be just a taste of the Henry Bibby era, only to regress spectacularly from that point. Then it was Bibby’s star-studded recruiting class headlined by Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt, which supposedly signaled a new direction for a program mired in mediocrity.

Then Tim Floyd was anointed as the savior, and the Trojan faithful expected him to work magic similar to his success with Marcus Fizer and Iowa State. The Galen Center was going to usher in a new era and O.J. Mayo’s commitment was an indication that USC could now attract a high caliber of talent. When that failed, Kevin O’Neill was going to restore integrity and discipline to the program, using a low-tempo, defense-oriented approach to replicate Tony Bennett’s success at Washington State.

Whether it’s been ineffective coaching, careless errors, academic apathy or allegations of impropriety, there has always been an impediment to USC ascending to the top of the college basketball world. Each time my confidence in USC basketball and dreams of Pac-12 championships galore were crushed by these unfortunate realities.

So this time, when Enfield was hired during Dunk City mania and the pinnacle of Florida Gulf Coast University’s hype, I resolved to stay realistic, and not let my inner fan get in the way of rational thinking. I pointed to the lack of effective half court sets run by Enfield in his team’s magical tournament run and the very real possibility that FGCU’s success was a flash in the pan, as they had lost twice to a marginal Lipscomb team in the regular season.

I promised I would not fall prey to the Enfield’s exciting vision and interesting backstory and I would temper expectations until it was evident that he could both talk the talk and walk the walk. I remained guarded when his impressive resume was recited ad nauseum after his hire. I ignored the temptation for excitement after his first press conference. I stayed grounded in past experiences as he talked about his grandiose, but completely realistic, vision for the future.

We’re only a short while into Enfield’s tenure, and I find my level of enthusiasm and excitement rising to unprecedented heights. With every statement issued and each tweet posted, my outlook on the team improves. I haven’t felt this type of excitement about USC basketball since Daniel Hackett bottled up Kevin Durant in the tournament upset of Texas.

This sudden buoyancy is more than just a fan’s unwavering optimism and confidence in his team; it is a feeling that this time is going to be different — that Andy Enfield is going to finally be the guy to put the Trojans back on track.

Whether it is on the recruiting trail or on the red carpet at the ESPYs, Enfield has the “it factor.”

On the recruiting front, USC is actively pursuing elite talent, such as Mater Dei prospect Stanley Johnson, for the first time since Floyd resigned. On Monday, Johnson released his list of top five schools, with USC making the cut alongside powerhouse Kentucky. Enfield’s undeniable magnetism and charisma is already yielding results, as five-star point guard Jordan McLaughlin spurned Kansas and UCLA to commit to USC. This will give USC a long-term solution at point guard for the first time since Brandon Glanville led the Trojans over a decade ago.

It’s more than just recruiting. Granted, O’Neill’s penchant for the quick fix turned USC into “Transfer U” and left the cupboard fairly empty, but Enfield’s up-tempo style is conducive to doing less with more. Though the majority of the excitement revolves around the future of Trojan basketball, it will be interesting to see if Enfield can replicate his success at FGCU in his first season at USC, using a fast-paced system to compensate for a competitive disadvantage in talent.

Junior guard Byron Wesley will serve as a model for future wings, utilizing his athleticism and open-court ability to finally fulfill his immense potential as a college guard. Senior guard J.T. Terrell will demonstrate how a shooter can flourish when freed of restraint and given a long leash. The 2013-14 season might not yield a championship, but it can cement the idea that Enfield is the coach of the future. Some of this exuberance can be chalked up to a die-hard fan’s resolute hope that his team will finally succeed, but there is also more than just that this time.

So far, it looks as if there is legitimate cause for excitement, that Enfield can deliver on his promise to the Trojan faithful, and can eventually have the team running and gunning toward conference and national championships.


“Davidson’s Direction” runs every other Wednesday. To comment on this story, email Jake at jake.r.davidson@gmail.com or visit dailytrojan.com.

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