No one will deny that USC is a football school.
That’s not to say that the Trojans haven’t also found success on the basketball court. Sustaining that success is what’s proven to be elusive. But that may soon be a problem of the past.
Last spring, USC tabbed a pair of proven winners, Andy Enfield and former Trojan star Cynthia Cooper, to shepherd the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Now they’re tackling their first Pac-12 seasons as USC coaches.
Enfield comes to USC from Florida Gulf Coast University, which he guided to a 41-28 record in his two seasons as coach, including last year’s remarkable 26-11 run that saw the Eagles advance to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament as the 15th seed in the South Region. The Eagles captured the nation’s imagination with a style that emphasized fun and a fast tempo.
As a player, Cooper helped USC win back-to-back NCAA tournament titles in 1983 and 1984, and in 2010 was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The Los Angeles native has come back and made USC her fourth stop as a collegiate women’s basketball head coach, having already revived programs at UNC-Wilmington, Prairie View and most recently Texas Southern.
“It feels great to be back at home,” Cooper says. “This is my dream job. I really feel like this is a blessing.”
Both coaches are anxious to begin laying a foundation for the future—and each stresses that the bedrock will extend beyond the hardwood.
“One thing I had as a player and have as a coach is a mentality of winning,” Cooper says. “I know how to win. When I say winning, I mean winning in the classroom, I mean winning in life and winning on the basketball court. You have to be at your best when your best is needed. That is what I am teaching.”
Enfield agrees. “We’re trying to build a winning culture here and to compete at the highest level,” he says. “It starts with accountability in the classroom. There is a lot of carryover from how you do in the classroom and what you do on the basketball court.”
He should know. Valedictorian of his high school, Enfield starred as a sharpshooting guard for Johns Hopkins University, where he studied economics. He earned his MBA from the University of Maryland, and later worked both as a finance executive at a software startup and as a coach in the NBA. Cooper, meanwhile, offers her team members worldly experience: She played extensively in the WNBA and Italian and Spanish professional leagues, becoming proficient in Italian in the process.
Both coaches are pleased with their current rosters, and each added to that talent pool with transfers.
Enfield has four transfers on the roster, highlighted by 7-foot-1 center D.J. Haley, who joins the program after graduating early from Virginia Commonwealth University. Also in the mix is former Maryland point guard Pe’Shon Howard. University of Nevada, Las Vegas guard Katin Reinhardt and University of North Carolina-Charlotte forward Darion Clark will sit out the season under NCAA transfer rules. The women’s team adds 6-foot-1 junior forward Kaneisha Horn from Alabama and 5-10 sophomore guard Alexis Lloyd from Virginia Tech.
Neither coach plans to rush any changes.
“I might have a concept or a philosophy going into a certain program, but I am flexible with that philosophy,” Cooper says. “I try to tailor my coaching and the things I want to accomplish to best fit the team I’m coaching.”
Enfield, who is planning to run a high-octane offense similar to the one that produced 175 dunks and thrived on high-percentage shots in the paint, also says he will make “minor tweaks” to tailor that up-tempo system to the players he has.
The coaches know winning will take time, but they’re also eager to push the basketball programs forward. “Realistically it might take a couple of years,” Cooper says, “but the coaching staff is approaching it like we want it to happen like yesterday.”
“My goal is to compete at a national level very quickly,” Enfield adds. “That means competing for Pac-12 championships, for Final Four berths, and being a Top 25 team every single year. Our goal is to build something that the city of Los Angeles and the school itself can be excited about and can be proud of.
“USC has always been a football school, and always will be, but at that point hopefully the basketball programs have caught up on a national scale,” he adds. “We’re trying to do our part to get to where they are now.”
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