Point guard Tahj Eaddy has found the ideal situation at USC
Since he was 17, Tahj Eaddy has lived the life of a basketball nomad.
He was skinny as a rail then, barely pushing 6 feet, hardly 150 pounds. Too small to command much attention on the recruiting trail, no matter how many plays he made nightly for Notre Dame High in West Haven, Conn. “I was a late bloomer,” Eaddy, now 24, said.
It was another seven years before he would grow into the game-changing point guard he’s become at USC, where he and the 17th-ranked Trojans play Arizona on Saturday at Galen Center. As a graduate transfer, Eaddy has set the tone in his single season for the first-place Trojans (18-3, 12-2 Pac-12), whose trajectory points skyward as March approaches.
But even as a spindly youngster, Eaddy was entirely convinced of where basketball intended to lead him.
So he followed dutifully wherever it beckoned. First, Memphis for his senior season of high school. Then, Atlanta for a prep school year. It was during that extra season at the Skill Factory, in nearby Woodstock, Ga., that he finally grew, filling out his frame enough to garner some attention for the 25 points per night he’d been putting up.
USC will play Oregon on Monday in a game rescheduled because of COVID-19 issues. The Trojans were to play Stanford that day in a rescheduled matchup.
“Even though I was performing on the court, I’d have big games, and recruiters would say, ‘Hey this kid is really good, but he’s too small,’ ” Eaddy said. “There was always an asterisk by my name. Going to prep school, that helped my career a lot.”
It led him to Southeast Missouri State, in Cape Girardeau, Mo., where his first collegiate season in 2016-17 didn’t play out quite how he’d envisioned. As a freshman, he averaged 7.5 points per game, while leading the Redhawks in three-point percentage (42%) and from the free-throw line (92%).
But some nights, his minutes dwindled without any clear reason. Eaddy admitted he was frustrated.
“It was a learning experience,” he said. “But I never pouted. I just kind of rolled with it. I knew eventually my time would come. I knew I was talented enough. I was just going to have to wait my turn a little bit.”
That’s all he could do the following year. After transferring to Santa Clara, Eaddy sat out the 2017-18 season because of NCAA rules, waiting eagerly for a fresh start on the West Coast. When his time finally came, he took full advantage, leading Santa Clara in scoring (15.5 points) and minutes (35.5).
But the next season, with largely the same lineup around him, his playing time was cut by coach Herb Sendek. The guard played 10 fewer minutes per game and couldn’t understand why.
“It was just the direction the coach wanted to go,” Eaddy said. “So I just kind of rolled with it. But I knew it was time for a change.”
Meanwhile, change was being thrust upon Andy Enfield. Two guards, Kyle Sturdivant and Elijah Weaver, unexpectedly transferred. Three more exhausted their eligibility. The USC coach had just one returning guard (Ethan Anderson) left on the roster from the 2019-20 season, when his staff started sifting through the NCAA transfer portal.
Eaddy seemed like an obvious fit. He’d already made an impression as a sophomore in December of 2018, when his 21 points and eight assists led Santa Clara to a double-overtime upset of the Trojans. When USC’s coaches got him on the phone, Enfield said, they were struck by his quiet confidence.
USC point guard Ethan Anderson missed six weeks because of back pain. Finally recovered, he has helped the Trojans into a first-place tie in the Pac-12.
The promise of opportunity was enough to convince Eaddy to select USC over Connecticut, his hometown school.
And for a reshuffled roster in need of a tone-setter, “Tahj was a perfect fit,” Enfield said.
“He could score the ball,” Enfield said. “He’s a good playmaker. But we also really enjoyed his personality. Speaking to him and his parents, we just thought he was really grounded and mature. We thought coming into the Pac-12, he would embrace the opportunity to play at a higher level. We thought he’d have a chip on his shoulder to go prove himself.”
That bet has paid off over the course of the Pac-12 season, with USC on a seven-game winning streak, off to its best start since the 1973-74 season, and Eaddy in the midst of a scorching hot streak, with 47 points in his last two games.
“The only way this team was going to be this good was if a guy like Tahj came in and made a difference,” Enfield said. “He’s certainly done that.”
The Trojans have won more in February than in any other season under Enfield and Eaddy, listed at 6-2 and 165 pounds, is averaging 17.4 points per game this month. He’s been integral in unlocking an inside-outside offense with 7-footer Evan Mobley that ranks atop the Pac-12 in scoring.
“They’ve really just allowed me to be myself,” said Eaddy, who is averaging 13.7 points a game for the season.
After seven years spent bouncing from team to team, it’s the kind of situation Eaddy had been searching for all along. But by no means, he assured, will his nomadic journey be over this March.
“There’s not a doubt in my mind that I’ll be playing in the NBA someday,” Eaddy said. “I understand my path is going to be what it’s going to be. But there’s not a doubt in my mind.”
When: 3 p.m., Saturday
Where: Galen Center
On the air: TV: Fox; Radio: 790
Update: It’s been a tough month for coach Sean Miller and Arizona. The Wildcats (14-8, 8-8) have won just one of five in February, sit at .500 in the Pac-12, and come into Saturday’s matchup in desperate need of a victory. That desperation could help surprise USC, which is riding high on a seven-game winning streak. Or it might ensure another smooth Trojans victory, as Arizona has no one to match up with star seven-footer Evan Mobley.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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