Originally posted on Aaron Torres Sports  |  Last updated 4/2/13
(Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports) Yesterday, I started a column on Louisville’s Final Four run by saying the following: To appreciate the significance of Louisville’s 85-63 Elite Eight beat down of Duke on Sunday, you’ve first got to appreciate just how this program came to get to that exact moment. A day later, it only seems appropriate to start a column on another column, on another huge college basketball story the same way: To understand why Andy Enfield was a grand slam, can’t miss, zero downside hire for USC, you first have to understand the dynamics behind the program he inherited, and where it ranks in the Los Angeles sports pecking order. And essentially, USC basketball is low in that pecking order. Very low. Like “you need a microscope, a compass and a couple good friends to find it,” kind of low. And while I’ll spare everyone the time (and in some cases anger) of ranking the Los Angeles sports fan-bases, just know that after living in this city for nearly a year, I can tell you that there a number of teams people care about significantly more than USC’s hoops squad. That includes the Lakers and Dodgers yes, but also teams like the Los Angeles Galaxy (from some league “called Major League Soccer”) and doesn’t include non-traditional random sports which pop up all year long (think, beach volleyball, or the random international soccer match which might end up at the Rose Bowl). Not to mention all the non-sports stuff that comes up too. That’s right, Los Angeles isn’t Lincoln, Neb., Morgantown, W.Va., or Norman, Okla. (in both good and bad ways), but it’s also a place where people have nearly an infinite number of options on how to spend their free time and discretionary income. Meaning that if you’re a sports team, you either better win big or play flashy, because it’s too expensive, too much of a time commitment (LA traffic is a REAL thing) and there are too many other options for fans to show up and support a team that is bad, boring or some combination of both. As Ben Howland just learned at UCLA, winning- even at slightly above average levels- simply isn’t enough. Not in LA, anyway. That’s also why I can’t think of a higher upside/lower downside hire than Enfield. It’s not so much that he’s guaranteed to take home titles (something that no hire would’ve) but instead that he will put an entertaining product on the court, and in turn, butts in seats. Put another way, think about it like this: Yesterday, USC hoops didn’t matter. It didn’t matter to you, it didn’t matter to me, and it certainly didn’t matter to USC fans and students at the school. Today it does. Today, the entire sports world is talking about USC basketball. And it’s thanks to Andy Enfield. So let’s go ahead and put aside whether or not we actually think Enfield will be successful or not at USC (we’ll get to that later, but frankly, I see no reason why he can’t or won’t be) and talk about the hire itself. Because for USC and its basketball program specifically, it’s not about winning national titles or Pac-12 titles, but about winning, well, enough. Nobody counts Final Four’s here, and unlike UCLA across town, yes, they hang banners in the rafters for things other than National Championships. That also makes the obligations of the USC basketball coach pretty simple. If you can get to the NCAA Tournament every few years nobody will bother you, and if you can simply keep the fan-base entertained between the end of football season and the start of spring practice, well crap, they’ll build a statue outside the arena for you. The job of the USC basketball coach is to sell the sizzle, not the steak. Enfield certainly does that. As I wrote last week, what made Florida Gulf Coast so damn fascinating this March wasn’t so much that they were the first No. 15 seed to make the Sweet 16, but in how they got there. There was no gimmick; no crazy three-point shooting, no super-slowed down tempo, no future lottery pick hiding out on a mid-major program. Nope, those guys just went out and balled, and played the sport it’s supposed to be played: Fast and loose and as if they’re having fun. And in an era where “fun” is a four-letter word for most college basketball coaches, you cannot emphasize that last part enough. Speaking of that fun style of play, you know who noticed it these past couple months? Well, pretty much everyone actually. Florida Gulf Coast was a team which took the nation by storm and caught everyone’s attention, specifically because they were so damn different than everyone else in the tournament. Upsets have happened before, but few teams have resonated like the Eagles did. Simply put, I can’t tell you how many people e-mailed and texted me or commented on my article last week, saying how they too had fallen for the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. How, after their team had been eliminated from the tourney, they were now FGCU fans. And really, that right there is why this is such a good hire for this specific school and program: If you’re a USC alum or fan, you already know what you’re getting from an Andy Enfield coached basketball team. You already have an opinion on him. In theory, USC could’ve hired a “better” or more “accomplished” coach; had they both not signed extensions, maybe AD Pat Haden could’ve thrown more money at Pitt’s Jamie Dixon or Memphis’ Josh Pastner to get them to come to Los Angeles. The problem is, and I hate to be so blunt, but: Who cares about Jamie Dixon or Josh Pastner? Again, it’s about the sizzle, not the steak, and well, Jamie Dixon is a meat and potatoes guy. Nobody is running out to buy season tickets to watch Jamie Dixon’s teams play, and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t renew them after a year of watching them slog through a bunch of boring 58-52 wins and 61-49 losses. Pastner’s style of play isn’t quite so bad, but I mean, do anyone besides Memphis fans and college basketball die-hards really have an opinion on Josh Pastner? Well I’ll tell you this: People care about Andy Enfield. Here is just a sampling of some of the texts that I got from friends in SoCal between when the hire was made on Monday night around 9:00 p.m. PT and 8:00 a.m. PT today: “So Andy Enfield?” “Enfield to USC?” “ENFIELD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Even if those aren’t the most ringing endorsements, let me ask you a question: Who had even heard of Andy Enfield a month ago? I certainly hadn’t, and I’m guessing you didn’t either. Now, one month later, I’m getting a text that not only refers to him by last name only, but had like 10 exclamation points behind it. If that isn’t the upset of 2013, what is? Moving onto the court, well, that will all get figured out. It’s hard for me to imagine that any high school player, in any part of the country watched Florida Gulf Coast these last few weeks and didn’t think to themselves “Man, I’d love to play for that guy.” It’s that much more appealing to a loaded group of sophomore and junior high school basketball players in Southern California, who now can play in front of friends and family during their college careers, and can also have fun doing it.   And frankly, I can’t imagine it will hurt Enfield’s recruiting pitch after everyone sees what Steve Alford has in store across town at UCLA. To be honest, I actually liked the Alford hire more than most, but let’s also not get it twisted here: No one will ever nickname any Alford-coached team “Dunk City.” Beyond that, can we all stop acting like the Pac-12 in 2014 is the Big East in the mid 1980’s? It isn’t, and if we’re being totally honest with ourselves, there is basically one program performing at a relatively high level right now (Arizona), with two others on the way up (Oregon and Colorado) and a bunch of more who range from “potentially good” (UCLA, depending on who comes back) to “abominably bad” (yeah, I’m looking at you Washington State). In between is a whole bunch of mediocrity. Ultimately, only time will tell where Enfield and USC fit into that mix, but again, right now, this isn’t about what could happen five years from now. Crap, we’re not even talking about a year from now, six months from now, or a week from now. We’re talking about today, and today we’re talking about USC basketball. It’s something we wouldn’t be doing if USC had hired anyone other than Andy Enfield as their new coach. (*** Note: if you enjoyed this article, Aaron has now started a once-weekly e-mail newsletter for updates on all his writing, podcasts and giveaways. Sign-up where it says “Aaron Torres Mailing List” on the right side of this website or e-mail him at ATorres00@gmail.com to be added to the list. Also for his continued take on all things sports, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, his newly established Facebook page or by downloading the Aaron Torres Sports App for FREE for your iPhone or Android Phones)  
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