Victim Of Their Own Success?: How being better than expected cost USC, Andy Enfield

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

LOS ANGELES — No one should have been surprised that Andy Enfield eventually got things rolling at USC.

As far as I know, the man has succeeded everywhere he’s been in life. He was an All-American at Division III Johns Hopkins and is still the NCAA’s record-holder for career free throw shooting percentage. He parlayed that into becoming a shooting coach for NBA players and, just three years removed from college, an assistant on an NBA coaching staff. He left the NBA to join a New York City startup that is now worth “significantly more” than $100 million before returning to the college ranks, eventually landing a gig as FGCU’s coach and, two years after being hired at a school with zero basketball pedigree, became the first man to steer a No. 15 seed to the Sweet 16.

Should I mention that he also found a way to marry a woman that once graced the cover of Maxim magazine’s swimsuit issue despite taking her to Taco Bell on their first date?

Betting against a résumé like that is silly, particularly when the man with that résumé was taking over the second-biggest program in one of the nation’s most fertile, talent-rich recruiting grounds. And that is why, in a vacuum, a 21-13 season, a .500 year in the Pac-12 and a first round NCAA tournament exit in year three of the Enfield Experiment is about on par with what the expectation should have been on Day 1.

But USC’s success last season did catch people by surprise, including me, because of the way his tenure got started. USC won just 23 games in Enfield’s first two years, including a paltry 5-31 mark in Pac-12 play, as he first dealt with a roster of full of cast-offs from different programs and players he didn’t recruit, and then fielded the youngest high-major team in the country, featuring just a single rotation player that wasn’t a freshmen or sophomore.

He entered the year squarely on the hot seat, with Trojan fans questioning whether they needed to make a change, and ended the season as a coach that some thought could ditch SoCal for a better job.

Perhaps the most promising thing about USC was they were thought to be “a year away”.

Everyone on the roster was slated to return, and for the first time at USC, Enfield would have a senior in his rotation that hadn’t transferred into the program.

How, then, could the program end up in the exact same position just a year later?

According to Enfield, the reason for USC’s sudden resurgence during 2015-16 was simple: The work his coaching staff did developing the players in the program paid off.

That’s who he is at this point in his career. He’s not one to try and cover himself in glory, and he’s already been burned by the same virality that made him famous in the first place; just months into his time at USC, Enfield took a shot at former USC head coach Tim Floyd at a luncheon with boosters that a reporter for Men’s Journal attended. Enfield’s quotes, meant to fire up the people that financially support his program, were made public, and less than a week later the two had an altercation at a reception for the Battle 4 Atlantis.

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Jordan McLaughlin (AP Photo)

So he’s not going to tell you, after sweeping three games against UCLA, that the balance of power in LA has shifted from the Bruins to the Trojans the same way that the Lakers have become a lottery stalwart while watching the Clippers turn into a perennial playoff team. And he’s not going to put any weight on a four-overtime win over Arizona beyond saying that the Trojans could have “lost that game ten times” and “would have had no chance of winning that the year before.”

Instead, he credits his coaching staff, which he hired because of the relationships they already have in the local recruiting scene, and he praises the guys currently on his roster. His staff found the talent, they convinced that talent to come to USC and then developed that talent to the point that his team was able to win games at this rate.

Listen to Enfield talk, and you’ll wonder just what it is that he does to earn his salary.

That’s coach-speak at its finest, an art that Enfield is slowly-but-surely mastering, but there is a key point that he makes about this group: They weren’t as bad as their record indicated in 2014-15. They lost nine league games by single digits that year, including a nine-game losing streak early in league play where seven of those losses were by less than ten points. That’s not only a tough hole to dig out of, it’s a tough mental hurdle to clear.

“It is challenging when you feel like you’re improving your program but the wins haven’t come yet,” he said, which is why he credits three tough, early wins — over Monmouth, New Mexico and Wichita State — for setting a tone for the season and why that four-overtime win over Arizona was so important. There’s an added level of mental fortitude required to win close games, a confidence that comes with knowing you are going to execute in the clutch, and it took some time and a little bit of luck for a young Trojan team to get there.

And it also may have cost Enfield a shot at having a Pac-12 title contender.

In 2016-17, for the first time in his USC tenure, Enfield should have had a deep, veteran roster, but those veterans knew that as well. They knew that players like Bennie Boatright and Chimezie Metu, rising sophomore bigs with NBA potential that were targeted by Enfield’s staff the minute he landed in LA, would be getting major minutes and that they, the elder-statesmen, would not. Darion Clark, who was eligible to be a graduate transfer, left for Grand Canyon, where he will feature in their front court. Malik Martin, a rising junior that was the fourth front court player on the depth chart, transferred to South Florida where he can expect to have a much larger role after sitting out a season. Guard Malik Marquetti did the same, heading to Louisiana.

Then the Trojans lost Katin Reinhardt to Marquette. Reinhardt was a part time starter as a junior after leading the team in scoring as a sophomore. As one source close to the program put it, “he wanted to go score 25 a game somewhere.” It’s not that he didn’t want to win, per se, it’s that he wanted to win in a place where he was the star, not playing behind a kid two years his junior.

With four players slated to play a role off the bench gone, USC was suddenly without much depth or experience on their bench.

And things would get only get worse for the Trojans.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 12:  (L-R) Katin Reinhardt #1, Darion Clark #0 and Julian Jacobs #12 of the USC Trojans react on the bench late in their 96-70 loss to the UCLA Bruins in a quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 12, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Katin Reinhardt #1, Darion Clark #0 and Julian Jacobs #12 (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Rising senior Julian Jacobs, an all-Pac 12 lead guard that averaged 11.6 points and a team-high 5.5 assists, announced that he would be leaving the program and declaring for the NBA Draft despite not getting invited to the combine, giving him very little hope of being drafted. Then, on May 25th, the final day that underclassmen could put their name in the draft, rising senior center Nikola Jovanovic, USC’s second-leading scorer and best rebounder, told the staff he would be turning pro.

Like Jacobs, he didn’t have much of a chance to get drafted, but that didn’t stop him from leaving. Jacobs (Lakers) and Jovanovic (Pistons) both landed in NBA training camps, although it would be an upset if either make the cut.

What that means for USC is that they’re, once again, back to being a year away.

That doesn’t mean their isn’t talent on the roster. Jordan McLaughlin, who averaged 13.4 points and 4.9 assists last season, is one of the most underrated point guards in the country. Metu, an athletic five-man that has bulked up to 230 pounds and added a 15-footer, and Boatright, who couldn’t be a more perfect fit as a stretch four in an uptempo, small-ball system, should both take significant steps forward this season. Elijah Stewart shot 42.6 percent from three last season.

That’s not bad for a core, but it’s also a list of two juniors and two sophomores that happen to make up the entirety of USC’s roster that played in a USC uniform last season. Technically speaking, Louisville transfer Shaqquan Aaron is a returner as well, having spent last year as a redshirt practice player.

Beyond that, USC will roster four freshmen and a grad transfer that struggled to get consistent minutes at Minnesota.

Once again, the only senior on USC’s roster will be a player that transferred into the program. And once again, USC’s staff will be tasked with developing talent at warp speed.

“The bulk of our rotation is freshmen and sophomores and two juniors,” Enfield said. “That development part is crucial. We’re not getting LeBron James walking in here, playing for a year and leaving. We’re getting talented players that need to develop.”

Which is why, for the second straight season, USC is still a year away from hitting their peak.

“In this business,” Enfield said, “if you’re too far away, good things usually don’t happen.”

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 09:  Chimezie Metu #4 of the USC Trojans dunks against the UCLA Bruins during a first-round game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 9, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. USC won 95-71.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Chimezie Metu (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Report: Notre Dame closing deal with PSU’s Shrewsberry

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame is finalizing a deal to make Penn State’s Micah Shrewsberry its new men’s basketball coach, two people with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because contract details were still being completed and needed school approval.

Shrewsberry, in his second season at Penn State (23-14), led the Nittany Lions to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and a tournament victory for the first time since 2001.

The Nittany Lions beat Texas A&M and were eliminated by Texas in the second round.

Notre Dame has been searching for a replacement for Mike Brey, who spent the last 23 season as coach of the Fighting Irish. He announced in January that this would be his last season with Notre Dame

The Irish finished 11-21.

Shrewsberry grew up in Indianapolis and went to school at Division III Hanover College in Indiana.

He was the head coach at Indiana University South Bend, an NAIA school located in the same city as Notre Dame, from 2005-07.

He later worked as an assistant coach at Butler and Purdue, with a stint as an assistant with the Boston Celtics in between.

ESPN first reported Notre Dame was close to a deal with Shrewsberry.

Bacot says he’s returning for fifth season at North Carolina

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina forward Armando Bacot is returning to play a fifth season for the Tar Heels.

Bacot announced his decision Wednesday, giving North Carolina fans a bit of good news after the Tar Heels failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.

The 6-foot-11 Bacot is North Carolina’s career leader in rebounds, double-doubles and double-figure rebounding games.

Bacot led North Carolina to a runner-up finish in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and his decision to return was a major reason the Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25.

The Tar Heels didn’t come close to meeting those expectations. They went 20-13 and opted against playing in the NIT. Bacot earned Associated Press All-America third-team honors and averaged 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds.

He averaged 16.3 points and 13.1 rebounds in 2021-22. He capped that season by becoming the first player ever to have six double-doubles in one NCAA Tournament.

Bacot participated in North Carolina’s Senior Night festivities this year. He has a fifth year of eligibility because of the waiver the NCAA granted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ed Cooley takes over at Georgetown with lofty aspirations

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WASHINGTON – Ed Cooley’s task at Georgetown is to bring a once-storied program back to prominence in a competitive conference that has three teams still part of March Madness in the Sweet 16.

Cooley’s lofty aspirations go beyond lifting the Hoyas up from the bottom of the Big East Conference. After leaving Providence, which he took to the NCAA Tournament seven times in 12 years, he already is talking about trying to coach Georgetown to its first championship since 1984.

At his introductory news conference Wednesday that felt like a pep rally, Cooley said he wanted current and former players to envision cutting down nets and watching “One Shining Moment” with the nets hanging around their necks. He promised wins – many of them – and plotted a path forward that he knows will involve some tough times.

“It’s a process, and the process now, because you have a changing landscape in athletics, you’ll have an opportunity to probably move it quicker than you would have 10, 20 years ago,” Cooley said. “We’re going to lose some games. It’s OK. Losing’s part of growth. But over the course of time, it will pay off.”

Georgetown has lost a lot the past couple of years under Patrick Ewing, who was fired earlier this month after six seasons. The team went 7-25 this season after going 6-25 last season and lost 37 of 39 games in Big East play.

While Cooley at Providence was responsible for four of those defeats, the 53-year-old distanced himself from Georgetown’s recent run of losing.

“I don’t have anything to do what happened yesterday,” he said. “My job is to move us forward from today.”

Cooley’s mere presence is an acknowledgement that Georgetown needed a major change to become relevant again. After late Hall of Fame coach John Thompson’s 27-year-old run led to longtime assistant Craig Esherick succeeding him and then son John Thompson III and Ewing getting the head job, Cooley is the school’s first outsider in the position in a half-century.

His only connection to the Hilltop – beyond coaching in the Big East – is his daughter, Olivia, attending Georgetown. Cooley, a Providence native, said her desire to live in the Washington area played into his decision to leave for a conference rival.

It was certainly no accident that athletic director Lee Reed and school president John J. DeGioia used phrases like “new era” and “new chapter” when discussing Cooley. DeGioia said he believes Cooley will “uplift and restore this team” to compete at the highest levels of the sport.

“He has a proven record of success,” Reed said. “We knew we needed a leader, someone who understood our identity and could reimagine Georgetown basketball to fit today’s unique basketball landscape.”

That landscape, including players being able to profit off the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL) and more easily transfer schools, are the biggest changes Cooley has seen since landing his first head job at Fairfield in 2006. He expects to be aggressive, and given the high volume of Georgetown players coming and going via the transfer portal, could rebuild the roster in his image sooner rather than later.

“You have to find student-athletes that fit the way you want to play, your style of play, that fit you as a coach,” Cooley said. “We need to find players that can play for me that can attend Georgetown, not the other way around.”

Cooley acknowledged that some luck is needed but also stressed recruiting local talent to keep the best players in the region around. That’s just one building block to putting Georgetown back on the map, which Cooley wants the time and latitude to do.

“The word patience is always hard because everybody wants it and they want it right now,” he said. “Everybody wants it right now. Have a little bit of patience.”

Texas’ Arterio Morris plays amid misdemeanor domestic violence case

Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, Texas — In a season when Texas fired coach Chris Beard after a felony domestic violence arrest, it has allowed a reserve guard to keep playing while he awaits trial on a misdemeanor charge of assaulting an ex-girlfriend.

Second-seed Texas has advanced under interim coach Rodney Terry to the program’s first Sweet 16 since 2008, and the Longhorns play No. 3 Xavier in Kansas City, Missouri.

Arterio Morris, a freshman who was one of the top recruits in the country last year, was initially scheduled to stand trial March 29, three days before Final Four weekend. Denton County prosecutors were granted a delay to an unspecified date.

Beard was fired Jan. 5, about three weeks after he was arrested on suspicion of a felony charge of choking his fiancée in a fight during which she also told police he bit, and hit her. She later recanted the choking allegation and the Travis County district attorney dismissed the case, saying prosecutors were following her wishes not to got to trial and that the charge could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Morris is charged with Class A misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury to a family member, which in Texas includes dating relationships. It stems from a June 2022 confrontation in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. The charge carries penalties ranging from probation and fines to up to a year in jail if convicted.

Morris’ attorney, Justin Moore, said the charges against Beard and the player are different.

“(Beard) was charged with a felony family assault,” Moore said. “That was far more serious as to what Arterio was alleged to have to committed. We maintain Arterio’s innocence.”

According to police, the ex-girlfriend said Morris grabbed her arm and pulled her off a bed, and later pulled the front of her sports bra, causing an injury to her neck and shoulder area. Police reported seeing a sizable bruise or scratch.

Texas officials declined comment. Beard said before the season that school officials he would not identify determined the freshman could play this season.

Moore defended Texas officials’ decision to not suspend Morris.

“I do believe Texas has taken this seriously. They’ve also allowed Arterio to enjoy his due process rights,” Moore said.

Morris has played in all 36 games this season, although his minutes and have been limited on a senior-dominated team. He averages nearly 12 minutes and 4.7 points per game. His biggest moment was a soaring alley-oop dunk against Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game.

Attempts to reach Morris’ ex-girlfriend through family members were not successful. According to online records, prosecutors sought the trial delay to “procure witness availability.” Prosecutor Jamie Beck did not immediately return messages.

Wichita State hires ORU’s Paul Mills to lead program

Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

Wichita State hired Paul Mills away from Oral Roberts to turn around its languishing men’s basketball program, landing what has been one of the hottest names among mid-major coaches.

The 50-year-old Mills led the the Golden Eagles to two of the past three NCAA Tournaments, engineering upsets of Ohio State and Florida as a No. 15 seed in 2021 before going 30-5 this past season and losing to Duke as a No. 5 seed.

He replaces Isaac Brown, who was fired after three seasons as the Shockers slowly slipped toward mediocrity.

“My family and I are extremely excited about being a part of Wichita State,” said Mills, who will be introduced during a news conference Thursday at Charles Koch Arena. “The rich history, winning tradition and unbelievable community support will keep us working on behalf of the greatest fans in all of college basketball.”

Mills got his break in coaching when he joined Scott Drew’s first staff at Baylor in 2003, working alongside future Kansas State coach Jerome Tang in helping to turn around a program that had been mired in controversy. Mills stayed for 14 years, helping to reach seven NCAA Tournaments, before replacing Scott Sutton at Oral Roberts before the 2017 season.

“I absolutely love Paul Mills. He’s like a brother to me. So happy for him and his family, for Wendy and the girls,” said Tang, who has Kansas State playing Michigan State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night. “He’s going to be incredible because he is passionate about young people and about developing young men.

“There’s no throttle, like, hold-back governor on him in terms of love and what he pours into his guys.”

Mills went just 11-21 each of his first two seasons in Tulsa, but the seeds of a turnaround had been planted, and the Golden Eagles have not had a losing season since. The biggest step came two years ago, when Mills led Oral Roberts to the Sweet 16 of an NCAA Tournament played entirely within an Indianapolis “bubble environment” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Golden Eagles slipped to 19-12 the following year before winning 30 games and the Summit League title this past season, when they were led by high-scoring guard Max Abmas, an honorable mention All-American selection.

“He’s the one that told me, he said, ‘Tang, 10s hangs with 10s and one hangs with ones,’” Tang said, “and he’s a 10 and he’s going to have some 10s around him.”

The hiring of Mills comes as the Shockers try to position themselves at the forefront of a new-look American Athletic Conference. Perennial powerhouse Houston is joining Central Florida and Cincinnati in leaving for the Big 12 after this season, and six new schools are due to arrive from Conference USA for the start of next season.

Wichita State, a power under Ralph Miller and Gene Smithson in the 1960s, returned to prominence when Mark Turgeon took over in 2000. But it was under Gregg Marshall, who resigned in November 2020 amid allegations of verbal and physical abuse of players, that it began to soar. The Shockers advanced to the Final Four in 2013, finished the regular season unbeaten the following year and at one point went to seven consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

Brown, who was Marshall’s top recruiter, led them back to the NCAA Tournament in his first year. But the Shockers were just 15-13 last year and 17-15 this past season, leading Saal to decide that a coaching change was necessary.

Turns out the answer Saal was looking for was just a few hours south at Oral Roberts.

“Paul Mills’ heart for people, passion for life and approach to the development of young people and programs is energizing,” Wichita State athletic director Kevin Saal said in a statement. “He aligns with Shocker Athletics’ core values, facilitates a first-class student-athlete experience and fuels broad-based competitive excellence.”