Speaking in front of a dozen counterparts in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, USC basketball Coach Andy Enfield expressed some envy for many coaches in the room. Others have rosters with experienced, older players, but upperclassmen have had a way of getting away from the Trojans' program.
Enfield, entering his fourth season at USC, inherited some seniors on scholarship awhile back but has only one, a recent transfer, on the current roster.
"It seems like we're young every year," Enfield said during his remarks at the 2016 Southern California Basketball Coaches Tip-Off Luncheon. "But the nice thing is we have some returners that have some experience."
Enfield and USC have weathered an off-season of unusual attrition. Four players transferred, including shooting guard Katin Reinhardt, a starter for much of last season.
Most puzzling were the departures of point guard Julian Jacobs and forward Nikola Jovanovic for the NBA. Neither was drafted, though Jacobs signed with the Lakers and Jovanovic signed with the Detroit Pistons.
The exodus caught Enfield by surprise.
"Julian and Nikola made decisions that they felt were in the best interest for their career and future," Enfield said after the event, which hosted 13 Southland coaches. "And we wish them the best. At the same time, it is hard to recruit another big in the fall. And Julian, he had a great season. And so sometimes in this business, you don't anticipate things happening, personnel-wise. But you have to make the best of it."
Instead of experience, Enfield has gotten an influx of talent, including four freshmen and three transfers. Among the latter is Derryck Thornton Jr. from Duke, who will sit out this season.
The Trojans' starting five won't be the issue. Point guard Jordan McLaughlin returns as a veteran leader, as do shooting guard Elijah Stewart and forwards Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu. Shaqquan Aaron, who sat out last season after transferring from Louisville, is likely to fill out the starting lineup.
But the team's depth in Enfield's up-tempo system will be tested. Injuries, Enfield said, could be costly. Boatwright, an honorable mention for the Pac-12 All-Freshman team, has missed time with hip tendinitis, but Enfield said he doesn't expect the injury to be serious.
"Hopefully, they can stay healthy," Enfield said. "If that's the case, the depth will be fine."
For the first time in at least a decade, there were no new coaches at the luncheon. There hadn't been any firings in the Southland.
UC Santa Barbara Coach Bob Williams has been in his role the longest. "After 18 years, I'm kind of like a bad rash," he said. "You can't get rid of it."
Cal Poly Coach Joe Callero said he has recruited too many "good guys" on his team. "We're trying to get them to fight each other a little bit more," he said.
At Cal State Northridge, Coach Reggie Theus is just happy to have a full roster for the first time in his tenure. "I had to learn how to run a real practice without one of my managers helping out," Theus said.
Cal State Fullerton Coach Dedrique Taylor empathizes. The Titans have nine new players. "I don't know any of our players' names," he said.
Fadeaway is a friend
UC Irvine already has a replacement for 7-foot-6 center Mamadou N'diaye, who now plays in the NBA Development League: 7-foot-2 Ioannis Dimakopoulos.
"I tease that he's the Greek god of fadeaway jump shots," Coach Russell Turner said. "We're trying to make him a little more of a power player."
Pepperdine assistant coach John Impelman, the great-grandson of former UCLA coach John Wooden, delivered brief remarks in lieu of Wooden's daughter, Nan, who could not attend the event. And he might have frightened UCLA Coach Steve Alford.
"She wants everyone to know she bought Pepperdine season tickets and won't be attending any UCLA games," Impelman said. "Just kidding."
San Diego State Coach Steve Fisher signed off his remarks with "I hope you can come out and see us this year."
Loyola Marymount Coach Mike Dunlap replied, "I want to take you up on that offer. We've been trying to get you on our schedule for three years."
San Diego Coach Lamont Smith offered a compromise. "We're very young and some dummy scheduled San Diego State as the season opener on Nov. 11," he said. "Maybe we can switch?"
Glass half full?
At UC Riverside, Coach Dennis Cutts said that last season, the team "stabilized itself. And now it's time to build."
Long Beach State Coach Dan Monson joked that his outlook isn't so sunny. Each coach, he said, had gushed about how big or fast his team was.
"I look at our guys, and I don't know that we have any of that," he said.