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Lorenzo Romar and Mark Gottfried back in Southern California for fresh starts, but scandal looms large

Former UCLA assistants are back in L.A. as head coaches

When Lorenzo Romar and Mark Gottfried were assistant coaches at UCLA under Jim Harrick, helping the Bruins to the 1995 national championship, the ambitious up-and-comers would carpool to Westwood.

Now back in Southern California as veteran head coaches with new schools — Romar at Pepperdine and Gottfried at Cal State Northridge — the former neighbors in Calabasas are settling into new homes and new programs, which will face off Nov. 10 at Pepperdine.

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“We got to play them this year,” Gottfried said Tuesday, “so he’ll probably beat us by about 50.”

They were always on the same track, with Gottfried splitting nearly two decades between Alabama and North Carolina State and Romar jumping to St. Louis before digging in at Washington for 15 years. And after the 2016-17 season, both coaches lost their jobs.

That a year later they resurfaced in Southern California at the bottom rung of Division I, hoping to bring up a couple of struggling programs, somehow seemed just right.

Gottfried settled in Porter Ranch, near Northridge’s campus, while Romar went right back to Calabasas. Gottfried has been to Romar’s home, but there hasn’t been a lot of time for socializing.

Romar and Gottfried return here seeking a fresh start, sharing another distinction they’d rather not discuss: Each has been linked to the FBI investigation into college basketball corruption that is playing out this week in a U.S. District Court in New York.

Romar has not been directly implicated, but top Washington recruit Markelle Fultz’s name was listed on an agent’s ledger as having received a $10,000 loan from that agency. Romar went to Arizona last season as associate head coach. There, he had to take over temporarily for Sean Miller, who was accused of being recorded on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for star center Deandre Ayton.

A federal grand jury in New York requested Gottfried’s personnel file from North Carolina State as part of a wide-ranging subpoena issued to the school in January. Gottfried, hired by Northridge in March, hasn’t been charged or accused of wrongdoing in the case.

In a superseding indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan in April, prosecutors alleged Adidas executive Jim Gatto funneled $40,000 through an unnamed North Carolina State coach to the father of star recruit Dennis Smith Jr. in 2015 to ensure his son played for the school. A Northridge spokesman said earlier this year that “there are no red flags whatsoever” with Gottfried, and his contract with the school includes language denying he or his assistants participated in any activities linked to the ongoing federal investigation.

Gottfried, who brought the 80-year-old Harrick out of retirement as an assistant coach, takes over a Northridge team that was ranked 340th out of 351 teams in last year’s RPI ranking. He said Tuesday he has enjoyed coaching away from the big-time world of college basketball.

“I coached three years at Murray State in Kentucky when I left UCLA,” Gottfried said at the annual Southern California Basketball Coaches Tip-off Luncheon at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. “Probably some of the most fun I had coaching. Little different than in the SEC and the ACC. It’s been exciting for me because every day our guys are tremendously eager. They can’t wait for practice.”

Coming back to Pepperdine has been refreshing, Romar said, because he doesn’t have the “media following me around as much” and he doesn’t have to worry about outside influences having a negative impact on his program.

“If you try to do the right thing,” Romar said, “you don’t have to look over your shoulder.”

When asked specifically about the federal trial, Gottfried’s mood changed. He said he wasn’t following it and moved to end the conversation.

“Not at all,” Gottfried said. “Just coaching my team. That’s all.”

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USC bitten by injuries, illness

USC coach Andy Enfield said the Trojans have had 10 healthy players only twice during the first two weeks of practice.

Bennie Boatwright (knee) and Elijah Weaver (ankle) remain sidelined recovering from offseason surgeries, with Boatwright expected back by the end of October and Weaver around Dec. 1. Derryck Thornton started the year with conjunctivitis. He’s returned, but now Kevin Porter Jr. has come down with it. Nick Rakocevic started with an ankle injury. He’s returned, but now Charles O’Bannon Jr. has an ankle injury. Jonah Mathews missed four days with a fever.

“Sometimes we go four on four, sometimes three on three, sometimes we have managers fill in and try to go five on five,” Enfield said. “We’ve had to cancel two intrasquad scrimmages so far. There’s not a whole lot you can do. We have to get healthy. But if you have to choose, you’d rather have it now than during the season. We had some significant early-season injuries and sickness last year, and it cost us a couple games.”

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