Skip to main content
Menu
The Coach Who Built ‘Dunk City’ Is Winning With It At USC

In 2013, when Southern Cal needed a new men’s basketball coach, it went looking for the fastest-rising candidate on the market. Andy Enfield had started the season as the no-name, second-year head coach of a low-major program in its sixth season of Division I basketball. But then his Florida Gulf Coast team became the first to reach the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed, earning the nickname “Dunk City” for its high-flying style. Since he arrived at USC after that improbable March, Enfield’s tenure can be neatly divided into two chapters: a dismal search for a new identity, and a successful return to his old one. Eight years in, the Trojans are playing their best basketball in almost two decades.

USC first went all-in on the FGCU replica — adopting a #DunkCityUSC hashtag — for about one day. On April 3, 2013, the school removed the hashtag, and athletic director Pat Haden said, “We’re going to create our own moniker. Somebody will figure it out with the way we play next year.” The result was a program lost in transition. Enfield’s first two teams at USC were 23-41 overall, 5-31 in the Pac-12. They pushed the pace — they were in the nation’s top 35 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo metric — but didn’t do much else, finishing worse than 200th in adjusted offensive efficiency both seasons.

As much as the Trojans tried to strike out on their own, they’ve been at their best when they play exactly the kind of basketball that pushed Enfield onto the national stage. FGCU’s dunk craze of 2013 wasn’t a two-game anomaly — that team finished the season with 135 dunks, ranking eighth in the country.1 In 2015-16, USC neared that mark with 110 dunks (16th nationally), ranked 35th in adjusted offensive efficiency and made the NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed. The following year’s team made another improvement, to 144 dunks, and won the school’s first NCAA Tournament games since 2009. Since then, the Trojans have been one of the first four teams out of the Big Dance (in 2018) and been in position to make the 2020 edition that was canceled.

Enfield’s ‘Dunk City’ is thriving at Southern Cal

Andy Enfield-coached Division I men’s basketball teams by their adjusted efficiency margin ranking and dunk metrics

Season school Adj. eff. margin rk Dunk Rk Makes Atts dunks/gm
2020-21 USC 15 3 108 120 4.00
2015-16 USC 49 16 110 129 3.24
2017-18 USC 51 6 157 177 4.36
2016-17 USC 53 5 144 168 4.00
2019-20 USC 55 35 88 103 2.84
2018-19 USC 82 79 76 92 2.30
2012-13 FGCU 105 8 135 158 3.86
2014-15 USC 151 62 71 78 2.22
2013-14 USC 151 79 69 80 2.23
2011-12 FGCU 176 T-115 56 63 1.81

Dunks are only from games against Division I competition.

Sources: KenPom, Bart Torvik

Finally, the coach who wanted his team to play above the rim brought in the missing piece in Evan Mobley — a 7-foot freshman who, Enfield says, has a jumping reach of over 12 feet. As the No. 3 overall recruit in the class of 2020 according to 247sports, Mobley is the kind of prospect who would normally land at Duke or Kentucky, which is one of the reasons for those blue bloods’ struggles this season. Instead, he’s dominating the Pac-12 with 52 dunks — fourth in the country, and more than 287 of 347 Division I teams — and a block rate of 8.9 percent, which ranks 37th in the nation.2 Mobley is a consensus top-three pick in this year’s NBA draft, which would tie O.J. Mayo for the highest USC pick in history.

Heading into the Pac-12 Tournament this week, USC ranks 15th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency rankings3 because it can do more than dunk. The Trojans are third in the country with 108 dunks; according to CBB Analytics, they take 29.8 percent of their shots around the rim (in the 86th percentile), and they make 66 percent of those (just above the national average of 64.9 percent). They also rebound 36.8 percent of their misses (sixth in the country) and block 13.5 percent of opponents’ 2-point shots, which powers the country’s third-best 2-point defense.

It turns out this USC team is what happens when “Dunk City” meets a power-conference roster. The Trojans have signed five-star talent before, including recently with Kevin Porter Jr. in the class of 2018 and Onyeka Okongwu in the class of 2019, and both became first-round NBA picks. The difference with this year’s group is its size. The team’s starters stand 6-foot-2, 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8, 6-foot-10 and 7-foot, with Mobley joined by his 6-foot-10 older brother, Isaiah, who also was a five-star recruit in the class of 2019. USC, ranked second in the country in average height and third in effective height,4 can play above the rim in a way FGCU never could.

In hindsight, Enfield’s strategy — moving a highlight-reel style of basketball west to Hollywood, where it would play with blue-chip talent — made sense. “At FGCU, no one knew who we were or what the letters stood for,” Enfield told ESPN soon after agreeing to be USC’s next coach. “It was like a marketing strategy. How do we put our name out there? What are we going to be known for? So we went with an up-tempo style, a fun style of play. We’re trying to do something similar at USC. The huge advantage here is the national name recognition. We just have to create a brand for USC basketball.” Eight years later, he sounds prophetic — USC is its own kind of Dunk City.

Footnotes

  1. And the top seven teams were Louisville, Memphis, Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, Baylor and Maryland, putting the Eagles in good company.

  2. Through games of March 7.

  3. Through games of March 7.

  4. Average height is a Pomeroy metric that’s the average of every player on the team, weighted by minutes played. Effective height is the average of the height of a team’s center and power forward positions.

Jake Lourim is a freelance writer in Washington. He most recently worked for the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Comments