first_imgIt takes a lot to turn a bad team into a good one. It takes time, patience and — most importantly — the right strategy. Using a top draft pick on a quarterback who turns out to be a bust or hiring a head coach who doesn’t pan out can set a franchise back five years — or more.That’s why USC basketball fans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that head coach Andy Enfield is a keeper. The 47-year-old inked another contract extension with the Trojans on Wednesday through the 2023 season, piled on top of the first two-year extension that he signed just a year ago that added on to his original six-year deal in 2013.When it’s all said and done, Enfield could last a decade — or more — at USC, an impressive mark that is a testament to both Enfield and the school’s hiring decision.Both extensions coincidentally came after Enfield’s name was linked to other jobs on the market. Pittsburgh reportedly had Enfield on its radar last year, and this year — following the Trojans’ deepest run in the NCAA Tournament in eight years — he was listed as one of Georgetown’s candidates for its coaching vacancy in a Sports Illustrated report. Neither job went to Enfield, and each time, it was followed with the reward of more padding on his USC contract.There are two takeaways from this. The first is that USC is not the only program that sees Enfield as a commodity. That’s the kind of coach you want leading your program: one that other programs — and established programs at that — respect enough to consider hiring themselves.The second is USC’s belief in Enfield — and vice versa — that gave him the time and space to turn the program around.Enfield rose to public attention in 2013 when he led a Cinderella team in tiny Florida Gulf Coast (AKA “Dunk City”) to the Sweet Sixteen, a run that landed him the USC job. But he’s proven to be much more than a flash in the pan, turning his 15 minutes of fame and moving them to Southern California, where he has methodically built a basketball program on the rise.His first year, the Trojans won two conference games and finished last in the Pac-12. His second year, they won three and finished last again. “Dunk City” seemed a thing of the past, the 15 minutes of fame to have run past their course and basketball at USC stayed an afterthought.But Enfield remained and his blueprint for the program finally started to blossom in his third year. Guards Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart, key players from Enfield’s first recruiting class (now both juniors) developed into leaders. Now-sophomore forwards Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, lanky big men that highlighted recruiting class number two, provided the raw size and NBA-caliber talent that the Trojans had been lacking for years.That quartet — combined with the since-departed Nikola Jovanovic and Julian Jacobs and strong bench depth — gave USC its first berth in the NCAA Tournament in five years.That was significant, but perhaps even more significant was seeing Enfield’s vision translate into wins. Even in the losing seasons, you could see spots of Enfield’s high-octane offense here and there — the fast pace, the run-and-gun style. “Play fast, play hard, play unselfish” was the motto. Problem was, the players, leftovers from before Enfield’s tenure, didn’t necessarily fit the vision. It took a few years — and some fortunate patience from then-Athletic Director Pat Haden — to swallow the losses and allow Enfield’s recruits to filter in, to learn the system and to thrive in it.Now, it appears Enfield has it: the players, the system, the reputation. McLaughlin, Stewart, Metu and Boatwright are the backbone, and if Metu and Boatwright don’t enter the NBA Draft, those are four quality upperclassmen that any good program needs.This year’s freshman class picked up on the system well and should transition nicely into sophomores. Guards De’Anthony Melton and Jonah Matthews both played like seniors at certain points last season, forward Nick Rakocevic sparked USC to an impressive comeback win over Providence in the “Four Four” matchup in the NCAA Tournament and guard Harrison Henderson has been singled out by McLaughlin, a team captain, as someone who has “gotten better each day he’s stepped on campus.”Throw in prized recruit Charles O’Bannon Jr. and Duke transfer Derryck Thornton, and that is a loaded roster. But beyond that, it’s a roster filled with Enfield’s players, fit to his vision of “play fast, play hard, play unselfish.”“If this team stays together with our recruits coming in next year,” Enfield told me last month before the Pac-12 tournament. “We think it’s a special team now, but with another year of experience, I think this program’s headed in the right direction.”Next season will be Enfield’s fifth at USC, and it’s safe to say that instead of being set back five years from his hiring date in 2013, the basketball program has found the right man and is leaping forward to new heights. Eric He is a sophomore studying print and digital journalism. He is also the associate managing editor for the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs on Fridays.last_img

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