Trojans’ story is not yet complete

first_imgWhen the Trojans take the floor at the Galen Center on Saturday afternoon for their final regular season game against the Oregon Ducks, they will already have had achievements this year that couldn’t have been imagined back in early November.For a team that hadn’t had a winning record in four seasons and hadn’t made it past the first round of the NCAA tournament in seven years, jumping from bottom-dweller to their first 20-win season since 2009 is a major step in the right direction.Consider the bleak history of the program — one that has been overshadowed by that other school across town — with a dispassionate fan base and little to no expectations entering the 2015-2016 season. The last time USC tasted palpable, consistent success was from 2007-2009 when they made three consecutive trips to March Madness, and even that was tainted by O.J. Mayo’s NCAA violations that wiped out the entire 2007-2008 season.This is what makes what the Trojans accomplished this season so refreshing: not only has their success been scandal-free — somewhat atypical of USC athletics — but, sporting just one senior, the team is young and primed to be a factor both now and in the future.Head coach Andy Enfield will tell you that there was no timetable on turning the program around, but realistically, no coach gets a three-year honeymoon period, no matter how young and inexperienced the players are. Enfield led the Trojans to a 23-41 overall record and a meek 5-31 performance in conference play in his first two seasons, and it was safe to say that another subpar campaign would have put the head coach on the hot seat.As if the basketball gods intervened and spared USC from another coaching change in a major sport, the Trojans have suddenly found continuity and a keeper in Enfield. He has done a masterful job of keeping a positive attitude through the trials and tribulations of his first two seasons, developing and instilling his system despite the lack of results on the scoreboard and meshing the core players he inherited — juniors Nikola Jovanovic and Julian Jacobs — with the recruits he brought in.Perhaps prospects are inherently drawn to USC based on its proximity to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but Enfield already has amassed talented crop of young players that should draw more prized recruits in the coming years. Sophomore guards Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart can only get better, and freshmen forwards Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright are already making a major impact.The style of play has also been a huge plus. Enfield has successfully implemented the kind of free-flowing, ball movement-heavy, up-tempo offense that wins games in today’s basketball, not to mention its appeal to casual fans that USC is trying to draw. The Trojans’ 103 dunks in their first 29 games have earned them the nickname “Slam City.”However, it’s difficult to go from 0 to 100 in a season, as the Men of Troy have found out. With initial success come growing pains. The 15-0 home start was nice, but the discrepancy between their play at the Galen Center and on the road — where they are just 3-7 — is noticeable, with the team losing its last six away games.Nowhere was this more apparent than last weekend in the Bay Area, when the Trojans were stomped by both Stanford and Cal. In both games, they ran their offense and had good looks at the basket, but the shots didn’t fall. Perhaps overwhelmed, their inexperience showed and their defense faltered as well, leading to disappointing games on both ends of the court.The road struggles are noteworthy, because if the Trojans are to do well in the Pac-12 tournament and beyond, they will need to figure out a way to win away from the Galen Center. Despite their recent slide, losing five of seven games, most experts have USC penciled in as a seventh-to-ninth seed in the NCAA tournament; still, an early exit in Las Vegas may very well drop the Trojans into the bubble on Selection Sunday.Nonetheless, that USC is in the conversation for March Madness regardless of the result against Oregon speaks volumes to the turnaround Enfield and his players have accomplished. The ride thus far has been unexpected and marvelous – and it isn’t over yet.Eric He is a freshman majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Fridays.last_img

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