How USC became Andy Enfield’s ‘most improved team’

4 months in the past, lengthy earlier than his Trojans would safe a 3rd straight journey to the NCAA match, Andy Enfield walked off the court docket following USC’s residence opener, fearful 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 workforce, known as every part in regards to the upcoming season, his tenth as coach, into query. The brand new, four-guard method fell flat. A brand new, youthful rotation seemed misplaced. The 2 senior captains struggled. In his postgame media session, Enfield lamented their lack of preparation.“We weren’t an excellent workforce,” the coach admitted this week, wanting again on the season’s begin. “We might’ve performed anybody that evening and misplaced. So we have been a little bit nervous.”To assume, by March, those self same Trojans barely resemble the group that was trounced on opening evening by Florida Gulf Coast, a workforce that finally completed ninth within the Atlantic Solar Convention. USC misplaced only one sport at Galen Middle the remainder of the season. The Trojans received 22 complete, a mark reached for the sixth time in seven years. And it sneaked into the NCAA match for the fifth time beneath Enfield, probably the most journeys ever by a Trojans coach.The trail USC took from that disappointing evening in November to Friday’s first-round matchup with Michigan State in Columbus, Ohio, units it aside from different groups Enfield has coached at USC.“That is in all probability probably the most improved workforce I’ve had at USC from the start of the yr to the tip,” Enfield declared final week.Even earlier than its clumsy starting, Enfield understood this season may be an uphill climb. He had simply two gamers he knew he might 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.However 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 herald 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 anybody out of the switch portal,” Ellis stated. “He trusted me and believed in my sport and allowed me to essentially develop and be a real 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 past two months particularly, Ellis has unlocked one other degree of his sport, averaging higher than 22 factors over USC’s remaining dozen video games.However it could take greater than a significant leap from its level guard to show the Trojans right into a match workforce.Kobe Johnson performed simply 7.5 minutes per sport as a freshman, the tenth man in a 10-man rotation. He’d taken a mere 34 photographs the whole earlier season when Enfield plugged him in to the lineup as a sophomore.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 turn out to be a gentle offensive contributor, scoring 9 factors per sport.“When you’ve got good gamers which can be younger, our philosophy is you need to allow them to develop,” Enfield stated.That additionally typically means giving them room to be taught from their errors.For Tre White, the house was crucial early on. The freshman struggled to regulate upon his arrival final summer season. However 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 workforce.It didn’t click on as rapidly for Kijani Wright. The four-star freshman large man was anticipated to make an instantaneous influence, 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 a purpose to earn it again, all of the whereas attempting to remain constructive.“We have been very particular with him,” Enfield stated. “You need to be a greater rebounder, you need to be a greater defender. And he took that to coronary heart.”The employees trusted Wright to determine it out. And by March, he was taking part in significant minutes off the bench.“Some coaches attempt to, like, management each little narrative,” White defined. “However I really feel like with Coach Andy, he provides us tips however he lets us be free. I really feel like that’s how all of us bought higher. He doesn’t take our confidence away.”Their confidence appeared 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 Convention 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. However contemplating the place it was in November, nobody sees any cause to cease trusting that course of now.“The beginning of this season, we didn’t know what kind of workforce we have been going to be,” middle Josh Morgan stated. “However we caught with it. We ran the course, and we ended up discovering an identification. Now, in the direction of the tip of the season, we’re a significantly better workforce than we have been at first.”