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Can Andy Enfield put USC basketball back on the grid?

New coach has some history of working at a football-first school. He's excited about recruiting local players to his fast-paced game.

April 03, 2013|By Gary Klein
  • Andy Enfield addresses the media during an introductory news conference at the Galen Center on Wednesday.
Andy Enfield addresses the media during an introductory news conference… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

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USC's football coaching staff traveled across campus to the Galen Center on Wednesday to attend the introductory news conference for basketball Coach Andy Enfield.

While his assistants huddled in the back of the reception room, Lane Kiffin settled into a front-row seat.

"USC basketball should be relevant," Athletic Director Pat Haden said in his opening remarks. "Let's be honest: It's not been relevant for a while. We're about to change that."

Even at a school dominated by its football program?

Enfield and Haden think so.

Before he gained fame for leading upstart Florida Gulf Coast University to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, Enfield was an assistant at Florida State.

"It's a football school," Enfield said, "like this."

Enfield, 43, said guiding a so-called second sport was not a problem.

"People in the United States have decided that football is the No. 1 sport, and that's OK, I enjoy it," he said, laughing. "I like basketball, but football would be a close second. We're going to try and use the tradition of the football program to help us."

Before he introduced Enfield, Haden said USC "wanted to win at basketball in the worst way" and to build "a long-term successful" program.

"We want to reset the basketball culture," he said, "starting today."

Haden fired Kevin O'Neill in January and the Trojans concluded the season under interim coach Bob Cantu. USC finished 14-18 overall and 9-9 in the Pac-12 Conference.

Asked where basketball falls in the framework of USC's athletic program, Haden said it was "the highest priority" because the basketball team in recent years has not won consistently, with the exception of a few seasons under Tim Floyd.

"I understand football is the 800-pound gorilla," Haden said. "We've got some challenges there, but I think we'll get that done."

Afterward, Kiffin said the football and basketball programs could "feed off each other." He cited his short tenure at Tennessee, where former basketball coach Bruce Pearl brought basketball recruits to the locker room after games.

"Bringing a recruit to a football game where the Coliseum's sold out and we're winning the way we should be — it's a great environment to bring somebody into," said Kiffin, who spoke to Enfield before he was hired Monday. "You go to a place where the football program doesn't have a history and… the stadium's half empty — that's not very impressive for a recruit."

There were about 100 people at the low-key news conference, and about a quarter of those were media members.

Enfield said he was eager to begin recruiting an area he can traverse by car and see several top prospects in a day or two. He expects that players "are going to be thrilled to come play" in his fast-paced system.

Haden tabbed Enfield after hiring a search firm more than a year ago. Haden said Wednesday that the firm had been retained and was consulted with regularly not only for basketball but in regard to all sports and administrative positions.

Florida Gulf Coast's upsets of Georgetown and San Diego State in the NCAA tournament put Enfield in the national spotlight and on USC's radar. But Enfield, a former player at Johns Hopkins who also has worked in private business and as an NBA assistant, indicated that he was no overnight success.

"That was 20 years, maybe 30 years of me sitting on the couch with my father watching [Atlantic Coast Conference] basketball growing up and going out in the backyard and dreaming of having my own program," he said.

Enfield met with returning USC players Wednesday morning. He said that he had spoken with coaches and that they could be considered for positions on his staff.

Players will begin workouts next week — after Enfield returns from the Final Four — and he said they would improve all phases of their game in his "player development program." He noted that Florida Gulf Coast, which was dubbed "Dunk City" for its high-flying, up-tempo style, took work.

"My first year at FGCU, we were throwing lob passes into the eighth row of the stands," said Enfield, who was 41-28 in two seasons. "This year, we're throwing it two inches from the rim and you're dunking with guys in your face."

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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