Commitment of Jordan McLaughlin an Encouraging Sign for Andy Enfield at USCPosted by Chris Johnson on September 12th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Dunk City was short-lived and it was awesome. Those are the two descriptions that pop into one’s head when you look back on Florida Gulf Coast’s headline-grabbing run to the last season’s Sweet 16. The Eagles didn’t just beat second seeded Georgetown and seventh seeded San Diego State in succession, they played some of the most ostentatious, brazen, high-flying hoops March Madness has ever seen. Florida Gulf Coast would have been a huge national story (which it was) even without the alluring mystery surrounding its Wall Street-bred head coach and his supermodel wife. All the elements – the highlight reel alley-oops, the beach-side campus dorms, the rollicking on-court celebrations, under-recruited point guard Brett Comer’s neglected high school basketball career, the immense branding and academic exposure the Eagles’ run granted the barely two decades-old university, Andy Enfield’s wife – made the Eagles America’s collective sweetheart. Florida Gulf Coast’s reign was brief, but it was brilliant. No one will forget Dunk City.
Nor did prospective employers believe the man behind the madness, Enfield, just happened to get hot at the right time – the typical formula for big NCAA Tournament upsets. The moment Florida finished off its humbling 12-point Sweet 16 win over the Eagles, Enfield became one of the nation’s hottest head coaching candidates not named Brad Stevens (Speaking of which: miss you, Brad). His name was floated about the college hoops coaching carousel, though for a time it seemed no one was convinced (after just two NCAA Tournament wins), that Enfield had more to prove before landing a high-major job – until USC finally, with immense outside apprehension, took a leap of faith with Dunk City’s creative genius. A lot of people were dubious about USC’s perceived decision to hire a coach because of two impressive wins in a wacky, unpredictable, upset-breeding ground of a single-elimination basketball tournament.
The consensus was that USC had made a mistake, that the Enfield hire was an overreaction to the excitement and romanticism of Dunk City. What went casually overlooked was that Enfield, while most famous for Florida Gulf Coast’s swaggering one-week March run, has NBA experience, and was a highly regarded assistant at Florida State before taking over the Eagles. Enfield’s popularity reached a critical mass just last season, but his basketball experience goes back further (and is more reputable) than most folks realized at the time. Even those who recognized the high-level coaching tutelage Enfield had immersed himself in prior to landing at Florida Gulf Coast were anxious to see how he would handle the big-boy landscape of Pac-12 hoops. Compared to Florida Gulf Coast, USC was a big job. It would require a level of recruiting acumen and talent management and, per the usual in Los Angeles, AAU coach-cajoling, and malevolent third-party shielding Enfield had yet to endure during his basketball coaching livelihood.
The Trojans haven’t played a game yet, but Enfield is wasting no time turning USC into the Pac-12 heavyweight its resources and location suggests it could be. First, Enfield hired esteemed recruiting assistants Tony Bland (from San Diego State) and Jason Hart (from Pepperdine) to help establish vital local recruiting ties. The results were immediate, if not tangible: USC was making inroads with some of the West Coast’s top talents, five-star small forward Stanley Johnson, the No. 3-ranked player overall in 2014 according to Rivals, included. Johnson has yet to decide on a school, but still considers the Trojans one of his top choices. Some recruiting news released Tuesday might make USC an even more likely option for Johnson. That’s when Jordan McLaughlin, a four-star point guard and No. 43-ranked player in 2014, committed to USC. McLaughlin is USC’s second commitment for 2014, joining four-star power forward Malik Price-Martin.
Landing a top-50 recruit is great news, but there’s more to McLaughlin’s pledge than the resonance of a high-profile addition. McLaughlin, a product of Etiwanda (CA) high school, the same program that produced former UCLA point guard Darren Collison, proves Enfield’s California-based assistants are doing exactly what he expected them to do upon hiring them: get California’s best talent to not only consider the other team in Los Angeles, but choose USC over UCLA outright. That’s what McLaughlin, who held scholarship offers from the Bruins, Arizona, Kansas, Indiana, and others, did, and what other top high school players in the surrounding area – including Johnson – may be tempted to do in the future. There’s another part of McLaughlin’s commitment that should give outsiders even more confidence in Enfield’s ability to point USC’s trajectory upward. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times Tuesday, McLaughlin explained the impetus for his choice:
“It really caught my attention what they’re trying to do with the new coaching staff,” McLaughlin said of USC. “The coach wants to throw lob passes and get an up-tempo attack. …USC was the perfect fit.”
This was the one aspect of Enfield’s resume that gave skeptics mixed emotions when trying to gauge his probability of success at a major conference program. No high school player could possibly disapprove of the high-flying antics Enfield used to knock off Georgetown and San Diego State last year. That’s fun, attractive basketball, the kind of stuff every recruit who likes to score and dunk and throw lobs would eagerly welcome. Clearly McLaughlin was intrigued, and many more, including Johnson, could follow.
Adding McLaughlin also gives USC the makings of a solid backcourt pairing in 2014, when UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt will be eligible after sitting out this season. At first glance, having a ball-dominant point guard like McLaughlin run the offense would seem to impede Reinhardt’s desire to have the ball in hands – which is precisely the license Running Rebels coach Dave Rice wasn’t willing to guarantee him, and eventually precipitated Reinhardt’s transfer. Reinhardt later cleared up some of the confusion surrounding his move with CBSSports’ Doug Gottlieb. “Everybody thinks I want to be a point guard – that isn’t true,” Reinhardt told Gottlieb shortly after announcing his decision to transfer. True or not, Reinhardt – who also told Gottleib he is “[…] just not comfortable […]” playing mainly off the ball – will have to share a backcourt with McLaughlin; the two will need to harmonize an agreeable distribution of creative responsibility. In Enfield’s rim-rocking system, that shouldn’t be too problematic; the Trojans are going to run, and there will be plenty of opportunities for both Reinhardt and McLaughlin to handle the ball.
That problem won’t need to be addressed until next season. This season, USC will use Maryland transfer Pe’Shon Howard at point guard. The Trojans will struggle to crack the upper-levels of a deep Pac 12, but the prospectus is bright. Without ever having coached a game, Enfield is showing why USC’s risky choice was a reasoned one.
They hired a good basketball coach.