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April 2, 2013

USC Changes Basketball Culture With Enfield Hire




He went for it.

Yes, athletic director Pat Haden made the power move. He had to, and now Andy Enfield is your face of USC basketball.

Win or lose, USC is going big time. UCLA hired a mid-major guru in Steve Alford, so Haden countered with the wiz kid with a Johns Hopkins degree, a partial stake in a healthcare software company, and a stunning run to the Sweet 16 that left America in love with "Dunk City."

UCLA is a historic program that has set standards in performance and coaching. USC is the Wild West. The Trojans hit rock bottom two years ago with their 6-26 debacle, and if this hire is Haden's crazy elevator back to the top, so be it.

The move seems reactionary, and perhaps it is, but Enfield's resume isn't the blank sheet of paper some are making it out to be. He graduated as the NCAA's all-time leader in free throw percentage, and found his way as a shooting consultant with the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. He wasn't a coach by any means in those two NBA stops, but he latched on as an assistant coach with Florida State in 2006.

Enfield spent five years in Tallahassee as a powerful recruiter under Leonard Hamilton and did an admirable job in leading FGCU to the NCAA Tournament in their second year of Division I eligibility too. But let's not fool ourselves. That now-famous Sweet 16 run is the reason he's moving to Los Angeles.

Don't only look at the box scores though. The Eagles didn't "shock" Georgetown or San Diego State. Instead, they went out, played their dunk-happy, fast break-oriented style, and blew the Hoyas and Aztecs out of the building.

The second-half shots didn't fall in FGCU's Sweet 16 loss to Florida, but in all three games the Eagles had the confidence and attitude of the favorite rather than a lowly 15 seed. USC needs its leader to be a dreamer, not a realist. During the 2011-12 debacle, the now-fired Kevin O'Neill jested how the only conference game he game-planned for was Utah. Why? Because Utah was the only Pac-12 team he thought USC could beat. When that's the attitude of the leader of your basketball program, it's time to take a step in the opposite direction. Andy Enfield has the gusto to fit perfectly in Los Angeles, and his unabashed confidence meets the prerequisite for the job.

USC's current roster is also well-fitted to take on Enfield's electric playing style.

Dewayne Dedmon, still undecided on whether he's going to return for his senior season, has the raw athleticism and agility to become a monster in transition and in the pick-and-roll. Byron Wesley looks best when he's driving to the hoop on the break, while shooting guard J.T. Terrell has the long-range ability to punish opponents for focusing too hard on defending the rim. Both of the point guards expected to be on USC's roster next fall- Chass Bryan and incoming freshman Julian Jacobs- are quick and shifty. The pair would rather push the ball, instead of bog down the offense and run isolation sets, a fatal tendency of graduated point guard Jio Fontan.

What USC basketball needed most in this hire is what it got: a rebranding. The trudging, half-court pace of Kevin O'Neill brought modest attention to the program when it worked, and turned the Galen Center into a ghost town when it unraveled. Enfield will do the opposite. He'll be the star. The first season will bring intrigued Trojan fans out of hibernation to watch his "Dunk City" brand. After that, his charisma and smarts should allow him to use his vastly widened resources to recruit the right talent and skill sets into his system.

And if Haden's power play move falls woefully short of expectations? The school can still bail out more easily than if the Trojans had brought in more established and higher-paid coach. Enfield will receive a significant salary bump from $157,500, but likely less than O'Neill's $1.7 million figure and significantly less than Alford's $2.6 million annual sum across town.

Coach Enfield will be the toast of the town months before he coaches his first game. If he leads USC back to prominence, great. If he doesn't, Haden (if he's still around) can still acknowledge that this hire packed the flavor that O'Neill (and honestly, Cantu) lacked.

In the NBA, "Lob City" restored LA's "second basketball franchise" into the toast of the town. Time will tell if "Dunk City" can follow suit.

Jacob Freedman covers the Trojans for the Daily Trojan and Neon Tommy. You can follow Freedman on Twitter at @Jacob_Freedman.


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