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 read more

JoePa’s grand experiment produced perfection

first_imgREMEMBERING JOE—Penn State football trading cards, candles and flowers placed by fans are displayed near a statue of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium on the Penn State University campus on Jan. 22, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) by Ralph D. Russo(AP)—In the mid-1960s, there was no such thing as a Northeastern power in college football.Michigan State and Notre Dame dominated the Midwest. Bear Bryant’s Alabama teams ruled the South. Out West, UCLA was at its best and USC was rising again.Then came Joe Paterno. “Here was this little old school from the East that didn’t know how to compete with the bigger conferences,” said Charlie Pittman, who played running back at Penn State from 1967-69.That’s what others said about Penn State. The Nittany Lions knew better.With players such as Pittman, Franco Harris, Lydell Mitchell, Jack Ham and Mike Reid, Paterno changed that in 1968 and ‘69, with back-to-back undefeated seasons.Neither earned the Nittany Lions a national championship. They had to settle for No. 2 in the AP’s college football poll each year, but Penn State was now a national powerhouse and Paterno was a coaching star.His career started modestly in 1966, going 5-5 in his first season as the replacement for his mentor, Rip Engle. The East hadn’t had a national title winner since Syracuse in 1959 and was looked upon as a weak region in the college football landscape.Paterno’s first team lost 42-8 to No. 1 Michigan State and 49-11 to No. 4 UCLA, and the ‘67 season started with a loss to Navy.Instead of being loyal to the upperclassmen, “He decided to play the best guys,” Pittman said.The Nittany Lions beat the Hurricanes 17-8 in Miami, lost 17-15 to No. 4 UCLA and Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban the next week, and finished the season 8-2-1.Paterno had a keen eye for talent and was skilled at finding the best ways to use it.“He took quarterbacks and made them linebackers. He took running backs and made them defensive backs,” said Pittman, who played two years in the NFL and now is the vice president of publishing company based in South Bend, Ind.And long before every football coach talked about the “process” of preparing a team, Paterno pored over the smallest details and implored his players to do the same.“Take care of the small stuff and the big things will take care of themselves,” was one of Paterno’s messages, Pittman said. That meant on the practice field and in the classroom.“Penn State won because he wanted to recruit people with the same values he had,” Pittman said. “People who wanted to compete at the highest level and people who wanted to participate and truly enjoy college, not just to play football.”Paterno called it his “Grand Experiment.”“I always tell people we came to Penn State as young kids and when we left there we were men and the reason for that was Joe Paterno,” Mitchell said.Paterno and Penn State finally won the national championship in 1982 and he added another in 1986. The “Grand Experiment” unveiled in 1967 had produced an elite college football program.last_img read more