How USC grew to become Andy Enfield’s ‘most improved crew’

Four months in the past, lengthy earlier than his Trojans would safe a 3rd straight journey to the NCAA match, Andy Enfield walked off the courtroom following USC’s dwelling opener, anxious about what he’d simply seen.

You couldn’t have drawn up a extra disastrous begin for USC. A 13-point defeat by the hands of Florida Gulf Coast, Enfield’s former crew, referred to as the whole lot concerning the upcoming season, his tenth as coach, into query. The new, four-guard method fell flat. A brand new, youthful rotation seemed misplaced. The two senior captains struggled. In his postgame media session, Enfield lamented their lack of preparation.

“We were not a very good team,” the coach admitted this week, wanting again on the season’s begin. “We could’ve played anyone that night and lost. So we were a little nervous.”

To suppose, by March, those self same Trojans barely resemble the group that was trounced on opening night time by Florida Gulf Coast, a crew that in the end completed ninth within the Atlantic Sun Conference. USC misplaced only one recreation at Galen Center the remainder of the season. The Trojans gained 22 whole, a mark reached for the sixth time in seven years. And it sneaked into the NCAA match for the fifth time below Enfield, probably the most journeys ever by a Trojans coach.

The path USC took from that disappointing night time in November to Friday’s first-round matchup with Michigan State in Columbus, Ohio, units it other than different groups Enfield has coached at USC.

“This is probably the most improved team I’ve had at USC from the beginning of the year to the end,” Enfield declared final week.

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Even earlier than its clumsy starting, Enfield understood this season could be an uphill climb. He had simply two gamers he knew he may depend on in Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson, they usually have been hardly probably the most dependable gamers at that time. Peterson was liable to erratic stretches and wanted to bulk up bodily, whereas Ellis had by no means proved to be a whole level guard, able to creating for others.

But as Enfield noticed it, the season hinged on how his two seniors carried out. The employees put their belief in Ellis particularly, opting not to usher in one other level guard to push him. The vote of confidence meant lots to the senior captain, contemplating his struggles on the finish of the earlier season.

“He didn’t go and get anyone out of the transfer portal,” Ellis stated. “He trusted me and believed in my game and allowed me to really develop and be a true lead guard.”

The belief was rewarded, as Ellis developed into probably the greatest playmaking level guards within the nation by season’s finish. Over the final two months particularly, Ellis has unlocked one other degree of his recreation, averaging higher than 22 factors over USC’s closing dozen video games.

But it could take greater than a significant leap from its level guard to show the Trojans right into a match crew.

Kobe Johnson performed simply 7.5 minutes per recreation as a freshman, the tenth man in a 10-man rotation. He’d taken a mere 34 pictures your entire earlier season when Enfield plugged him in to the lineup as a sophomore.

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He’s been important to USC’s rotation ever since, creating into probably the greatest on-ball defenders in faculty basketball, a byproduct of this system’s endurance. He’s even develop into a gradual offensive contributor, scoring 9 factors per recreation.

“When you have good players that are young, our philosophy is you have to let them grow,” Enfield stated.

That additionally typically means giving them room to study from their errors.

For Tre White, the house was essential early on. The freshman struggled to regulate upon his arrival final summer time. But Enfield inspired him to shake off the misses, to maintain firing away. He tried to maintain White’s confidence up, letting him work out the kinks on his personal.

It wouldn’t take lengthy for him to determine it out as White began 27 of USC’s 31 video games, incomes a spot on the convention’s all-freshman crew.

It didn’t click on as rapidly for Kijani Wright. The four-star freshman large man was anticipated to make an instantaneous affect, however by midseason he’d misplaced his place within the rotation.

So Enfield and his employees laid out the areas the place Wright wanted to get higher with the intention to earn it again, all of the whereas making an attempt to remain optimistic.

“We were very specific with him,” Enfield stated. “You have to be a better rebounder, you have to be a better defender. And he took that to heart.”

The employees trusted Wright to determine it out. And by March, he was enjoying significant minutes off the bench.

“Some coaches try to, like, control every little narrative,” White defined. “But I feel like with Coach Andy, he gives us guidelines but he lets us be free. I feel like that’s how we all got better. He doesn’t take our confidence away.”

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Their confidence gave the impression to be hovering earlier than final week’s journey to Las Vegas, when the Trojans have been despatched packing within the first spherical of the Pac-12 Conference match for the primary time since 2014.

The defeat was an abrupt reminder of how little room there’s for error for USC this March. But contemplating the place it was in November, nobody sees any motive to cease trusting that course of now.

“The start of this season, we didn’t know what type of team we were going to be,” heart Josh Morgan stated. “But we stuck with it. We ran the course, and we ended up finding an identity. Now, towards the end of the season, we’re a much better team than we were at the start.”