Enfield and USC Basketball Face a Crossroads

USC aims to keep ascending after strong run in NCAA tournament

When Evan Mobley committed to USC in the fall of 2019, becoming the highest-rated men’s basketball recruit ever to do so, he couldn’t possibly have imagined what awaited his only college season.

A pandemic. Ever-present safety protocols. Daily testing. Empty arenas. Mobley never spoke of any grand designs for his year at USC, but certainly, none of this was what he had in mind.

And yet, as the end of that single, special season arrived suddenly on Tuesday night, the star 7-footer beamed from his place at the still-virtual postgame podium in Indianapolis. Mobley could’ve joined a basketball blueblood. He could’ve jumped to the G League. Instead, he and his Trojans teammates carried a perennially overlooked program deeper into March than any other USC team in 20 years.

Picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12, USC reached the Elite Eight for just the second time in 67 years.

It ended there, quickly and quietly, at the hands of 30-0 Gonzaga. But the 85-66 loss wouldn’t mar one of the most memorable seasons in USC history. Not for Mobley, at least.

“It was everything I hoped it would be,” he said. “We fell a little short, but I’m glad we made it this far.”

The question now, after a season spent reigniting hope in the program, is whether USC is capable of going any further now without Mobley. Soon, he will declare for the NBA draft, where he’s expected to be a top-three pick. His brother, Isaiah, may very well follow, after a stellar NCAA tournament in which he averaged 16 points and shot 61%.

The churn might not stop there. Tahj Eaddy, the Trojans’ second-leading scorer, will be 25 before the next college season begins, the clock ticking on his chances of playing professionally. Isaiah White and Chevez Goodwin, both graduate transfers entering their fifth year of eligibility, might also be ready to move on.

A team pieced together through the transfer portal to fit around a singular prospect might have to be put back together again. Sans the freakish 7-footer.

It won’t be easy. But neither was this past season, generational prospect aside. USC had just three returners on the roster. Coach Andy Enfield convinced four transfers to commit without even seeing the campus in person. The team didn’t play together until September, and when it did, it opened practice outside, each player socially distanced, dribbling and shooting his own basketballs.

Evan Mobley dunks against KU in the first half of their second-round game of the NCAA tourney on March 22 in Indianapolis. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

“We had a brand new team,” Enfield said. “In my coaching career, I’ve never seen a team develop a chemistry and a culture on and off the court like this team has. They improved dramatically from the start of training camp throughout the season, kept getting better and better. I think you saw that in the NCAA tournament. We became a very good basketball team.”

It took time for the Trojans to become the team that rolled through three opponents on its way to the Elite Eight. The offense struggled for long stretches at the start of the season. But Evan Mobley proved to be a stabilizing force in the middle, and eventually, the pieces around him began to fit. USC won 13 of 14 games shortly after returning from its only COVID-19 stoppage of the season. After it stumbled in the final weeks of the regular season, it found its stride again in the tournament and finished the season with a 25-8 record.

It’s a credit to Enfield, who spent the seven previous seasons building to this point. But where he takes USC from here will be the true test of his ability to build a program.

There’s no telling how the Trojans might look next season. Not this early in the offseason, at least. At this time last year, USC had barely made contact with the core of its roster.

If Isaiah Mobley returns for another season to build off his strong March, USC would at least have a talented scorer to build around. Otherwise, the transfer portal is as stocked as ever with prospects in search of opportunity. Perhaps Enfield finds the same perfect puzzle pieces again.

But the 7-foot linchpin of the Trojans’ Elite Eight run will be long gone, and Enfield, in his ninth season, will be left to prove that USC basketball hasn’t run headlong into its ceiling.

latimes.com

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LawyerJohn
Knighted Member
LawyerJohn (@lawyerjohn)
April 4, 2021 12:15 pm

Last night’s Gonzaga-sucla college basketball game was one for the ages. And it wasn’t. Not being a sucla fan, I never personalize or remember its players’ names. As far as I care they could suit-up Abbot and Costello, and the 3 Stooges. Still, I felt a little badly about the cruel ending. I mean, come on, all night long the referees wee giving free passes to both teams charging the basket as if they were Kamikaze suicide fighters– Until the last play in regulation. A ticky-tack charging call on the Midget-Bears, thus denying them a chance to win the game… Read more »

San Diego Trojan
Diamond Member
San Diego Trojan (@san-diego-trojan)
April 3, 2021 10:42 pm

How good has Johnny Juzang been in this tournament. Would have probably been Tourney MVP if they would have won. He played on the same Compton Magic AA team with the Mobley’s and Okongwu. What a team! SC needs guards like that who can create and score against anyone, anytime

Terrific Tommy
Diamond Member
Terrific Tommy (@terrific-tommy)
April 4, 2021 8:50 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Allen, LOL — I was just talking to my CPA (and good friend) who graduated from Cal Jr. — and you should have heard him crying about how close they came to beating Gonzaga. He failed to mention that Gonzaga didn’t play nearly as well as they did against the Trojans. And like I posted yesterday, he was calling it a moral victory and a great indication re: next season.

I told him to get it real before he does my taxes. 😀

San Diego Trojan
Diamond Member
San Diego Trojan (@san-diego-trojan)
April 3, 2021 9:34 pm

Cronin gets more out of less, and made the adjustments necessary to almost pull this out. He is a very good coach. That being said, I am so glad they lost, and by another heartbreaking last second shot. I’m rooting for the Zags against Baylor, and Mark Few, because he took a program from a mid major conference and made them big time. I appreciate coaches who can pull that off. Plus, it’s west coast. Between the tremendous showing by the PAC 12 men, and now the Women’s final featuring Stanford/Arizona, the positive conference exposure couldn’t have worked out much… Read more »

ATL D.D.S.
Diamond Member
ATL D.D.S. (@atl-d-d-s)
April 4, 2021 9:24 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Trakh works cheap in a non-revenue sport. Even though they are shafting a women’s sport, it furthers Little Mao’s desire to make all intercollegiate sports downgraded to the club level.

San Diego Trojan
Diamond Member
San Diego Trojan (@san-diego-trojan)
April 4, 2021 12:13 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

We should be able to do much better than Trakh. I know the administration doesn’t want to pay what it would take, but there has to be a better connection to an up and comer off the staff of a better program.

Terrific Tommy
Diamond Member
Terrific Tommy (@terrific-tommy)
April 4, 2021 8:29 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I think it started downhill when Linda Sharp left. JMHO

ATL D.D.S.
Diamond Member
ATL D.D.S. (@atl-d-d-s)
April 4, 2021 9:34 am

I didn’t watch much of the game, because early on it looked like the Zags were NOT going to crush the bruins as hoped. (I did get to see the last two shots–wow!) My wife said it looked like Cronin had his players in man to man defense most of the game. Is this true and is this why the Zags were taken off their pace slightly on offense? I wonder if Endfield could have done the same thing?

San Diego Trojan
Diamond Member
San Diego Trojan (@san-diego-trojan)
April 4, 2021 12:20 pm
Reply to  ATL D.D.S.

Hey ATL, hope all is well with you. I didn’t see the game, only the highlights. Hard for me to watch any game that UCLA has a chance to win. Cronin is definitely a very good coach who has a great game plan and squeezes everything out of his players. This will definitely boost his recruiting, and players and former players seem to love him. So glad we are 4-0 against him, but he is going to be a force to reckon with going forward. Sounds like your wife knows her stuff. Happy Easter

Jamaica
Knighted Member
Jamaica (@jamaica)
April 3, 2021 9:02 pm

Yeah I watched the game and thought damn, they (ruins) will win the game somehow. And it took a desperation half court shot to beat them. But then I thought, why in h*ll didn’t Enfield coach our team to play the top rated team like this? You don’t think the SoCal HS recruits didn’t see that game also?

PN4SC
Noble Member
PN4SC (@pn4sc)
April 3, 2021 8:47 pm

Bruins played great, but in the end, it’s just another loss.
There is a Basketball God! Thank You Gonzaga( but what took so long)

Terrific Tommy
Diamond Member
Terrific Tommy (@terrific-tommy)
April 3, 2021 8:15 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Allen, I would never accept this take if it was USC — but given the rankings, this was a moral victory for Cal Jr.

Trojan5
Knighted Member
Trojan5 (@trojan5)
April 3, 2021 9:05 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I have a question for you: You have to choose one of the 2 following options. 1) Clay Helton moves next door to you. 2) UCLA football wins a NC. Which option do you pick?

Trojan5
Knighted Member
Trojan5 (@trojan5)
April 3, 2021 9:29 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

since I live in the NW I think I would choose CH to move in next door. My reasoning: if he is living in the NW I would assume he was non longer the USC HC.

Terrific Tommy
Diamond Member
Terrific Tommy (@terrific-tommy)
April 3, 2021 7:32 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Allen, imagine if they beat the Zags. I would probably need man intervention. 😡

Jamaica
Knighted Member
Jamaica (@jamaica)
April 3, 2021 11:06 am

It would have helped if the team had competed better against Gonzaga. You hope never being in the game and losing by that many points won’t be a negative in the minds of some recruits. I’m sure Enfield realizes he needs point guards that can keep his team in the games with ball control, defense & shooting, along with a big man in the middle. It will be interesting to see if his next recruiting class addresses what this years’ team lacked.

LawyerJohn
Knighted Member
LawyerJohn (@lawyerjohn)
April 3, 2021 8:03 am

Can’t read anymore SC basketball news when the latest Clay Helton rumor is all awhirl, with the guy having the audacity to ask Bo[h]n-Bo[h]n for a raise from $2000 per hour to $2,250. It’ll probably turn out to be baseless, but still. Got to put a plug in for Easter since no one else seems to know it exists. I tell a teller at a bank yesterday, “Why do we call it Good Friday, it’s terrible Friday,” and she retorts, “Oh, are you having a bad day, sir?” Even Leonard Cohen, a “non-believer” and Jewish, saw something special in this… Read more »

Jamaica
Knighted Member
Jamaica (@jamaica)
April 3, 2021 11:09 am
Reply to  LawyerJohn

Better be just a rumor…. or the participants involved here will get slammed as never before.

Gepetohong
Noble Member
Gepetohong (@gepetohong)
April 3, 2021 6:30 am

I think the portal has changed the dynamics of recruiting and team make-up forever, and it will have even more impact in basketball than it does in football. As a non-blue blood, I think the best we can hope for (and perhaps the right way to go about it) is to get one (or two if lucky) marquee recruits and fill the rest of the needs with transfers and developmental prospects. I think the era of “jelling” into a team after 2-3 years is past. Next season we should have a roster (impact players-wise) of Agbonkpolo, Anderson, Coulibaly, Peterson, and… Read more »

Jamaica
Knighted Member
Jamaica (@jamaica)
April 3, 2021 10:51 am
Reply to  Gepetohong

The portal is/was another tool CH used to fall back on as another excuse to not role up his sleeves and dig into recruiting. I doubt unless a top recruit showed interest in USC football at the start, Helton didn’t bother contacting him. Unless you walk into a home where the mother is all about fearing her son will get hurt playing football or you are a 3-star recruit being bypassed by the better programs and dream of playing at a top brand football program, Helton is not the type to convince even a squirrel to fight for that last… Read more »