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USC basketball team will be fast on court, but progress may be slower

At the beginning of USC basketball practice Monday, the players ran through a drill that has become familiar. They had to score in eight seconds or less. Players rebounded, found the outlet, dished and shot. They ran up and back down the court, and then up and back again.

The Trojans, who opened practice for Coach Andy Enfield’s second season a week ago, are built for speed. Building this program into a winner may require more patience.

The four-man freshman class probably will play major minutes this season. Two transfers are eligible. The oldest players expected to see regular playing time are sophomores.

“Since we have so many young players, we do have to do a lot of teaching,” Enfield said. “Everything we’re doing defensively and offensively is new basically to half our team.”

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He said he has to stop practice more often than usual to explain. Things he takes for granted, floor spacing for example, aren’t so apparent to those unfamiliar with his concepts. There are fewer veterans to provide an example or whisper advice during practice.

USC went 11-21 last season and finished last in the Pac-12 Conference. Enfield’s system, which transformed Florida Gulf Coast into “Dunk City” during a Sweet 16 run in the 2013 NCAA tournament, needed more time and more talent.

Last season was the honeymoon, but more may be expected in year two. This year’s recruiting class was ranked No. 23 in the nation by Rivals.com. Enfield wooed Etiwanda High’s prized point guard, Jordan McLaughlin, who chose USC over UCLA and others.

On McLaughlin’s official visit, Enfield showed him tape of his offense. He told McLaughlin to imagine himself as the point guard. It required some faith, since the product wasn’t yet there on the court.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, that could be me,’” McLaughlin said. “I believe in what Coach Enfield is trying to do.”

McLaughlin is a solid foundation. Enfield likes his explosiveness and the way he sees the floor.

He will be asked to marshal a young starting five that is still adjusting to a new system. What should be expected of him? When asked about the pressure, McLaughlin smiled.

“They’re expecting a lot,” he said. “But I think I’ll be able to give them a lot.”

McLaughlin suffered a torn labrum last year and underwent surgery, which held him out of contact for six months. He is using the preseason to work off the rust and get back into playing shape.

Another new addition, Nevada Las Vegas transfer Katin Reinhardt, can provide scoring. Nikola Jovanovic, a 6-foot-11 forward in his second season, has height and experience.

USC will likely take a step forward this season as more athletic recruits adapt to the system. Given the team’s youth, the question is, how far?

“Everyone’s going to say, ‘Well, we want to win the Pac 12, we’re going to go to the NCAA tournament, we’re going to go to the Final Four,’” Enfield said. “Usually everyone says that. I think our goals are going to be focused on, we want our players to keep getting better.”

zach.helfand@latimes.com


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