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

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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)

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.