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Lessons from late father help USC coach Andy Enfield guide Trojans to the Sweet 16

USC coach Andy Enfield instructs his players during a win over Drake in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
USC coach Andy Enfield instructs his players during a win over Drake in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Enfield has used the lessons from his late father to help guide the Trojans to the Sweet 16.
(Associated Press)

The house on McCreary Road backed up to a small hillside, with a backyard that sloped up toward the tree line. But the slope wouldn’t stop Bill Enfield from building a basketball court.

The Enfields were schoolteachers, and money was tight. So Bill dug the dirt from that hill with his own shovel. He laid the foundation himself with cement cinderblocks. He filled the spaces with concrete, framing a court that stretched maybe 16 feet to either corner and 20 feet to the top of the key, where the drop-off to the hillside below was almost four feet.

It wouldn’t take the Enfield kids long to learn the perils of diving for loose balls.

The construction took weeks, the hillside making matters more complicated. But when the concrete dried and the lines finally were painted, the court became a sanctuary. There was nothing like it in their small corner of Shippensburg, Pa. And it was on that patch of concrete that Andy Enfield learned the game.

The court played a formative role in a hoops education that would lead Enfield first to a stunning Cinderella run coaching Florida Gulf Coast, then to USC, where he’ll return to the Sweet 16 this Sunday for a game against Oregon.

After struggling with the three-point shot in the regular season, USC had made 44.3% of its shots from deep in the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments.

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The man who built that court with his bare hands first laid the foundation in his son, instilling the lessons that helped rebuild a foundering USC program into a contender in this year’s NCAA tournament.

As USC cruised past Kansas and into the third round for the first time since 2007, Enfield couldn’t help but think of his father. It’d been exactly six months since Bill Enfield died of cardiovascular issues, just weeks short of his 80th birthday. In such a joyous March moment, his absence felt especially profound.

“He meant a lot to me,” Enfield said. “He was just a terrific father. He was so supportive of whatever we were trying to do. He was always there, but he never pushed.”

For more than two decades, Bill Enfield coached Shippensburg’s ninth grade boys basketball team, bringing his oldest son along wherever they went. A young Andy idolized his father’s teams and especially treasured the bus trips to away games, when he could sit among the players and feel the anticipation in the air.

Andy was in sixth grade when his dad built the backyard court, and nothing was the same after that. He woke up early on hot summer days and spent hours shooting and dribbling, playing as long as he could until the central Pennsylvania humidity inevitably became unbearable.

USC coach Andy Enfield, right, with his father Bill in 2012.
(Courtesy of Andy Enfield)

“I came to understand how hard you had to work to be great at something.”

— Andy Enfield, on the impact his father had on him.

“You could always find Andy on that court,” his childhood friend, Randy Taylor, said.

It was barely big enough for two-on-two, but the Enfield boys and their young sister made do. Often, Andy would drag his younger brother, Mark, out of bed on those early mornings, eager for someone to play against.

“He was very, very driven to be better,” Mark Enfield said with a laugh. Andy shot so many free throws that it came as little surprise to his brother that he set the NCAA record for career free-throw percentage (92.5%) during his playing days at Johns Hopkins. The record stood from 1991 to 2007.

That drive, Andy says, can be traced to his father. Bill never pushed his son to play the game, but as Andy grew older, he devoured every lesson his dad tried to impart to his teams.

“I came to understand how hard you had to work to be great at something,” Enfield said.

His father had a way of pulling every possible drop of greatness out of his players, even the ones who didn’t share the same passion as his son. Years later, as a college coach, it was what Enfield would come to admire most about his father’s methods.

Bill Enfield knew how to build his players up, but he also demanded respect. He preached fundamentals and extolled “playing the right way.” Everyone who made their way through Shippensburg’s junior high knew his booming voice. “When you heard that voice, he had your attention,” Taylor said. “It was distinctive.”

He was more reserved off the court, known for his dry wit and well-timed quips. To those who knew both, it’s not hard to see his son inherited the same sense for sarcasm.

USC wasn’t happy to lose the Pac-12 title by percentage points to Oregon. On Sunday, the Trojans and Ducks meet again in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16.

It wasn’t the only thing Andy inherited. When Taylor first sat courtside at Florida Gulf Coast and watched Enfield roam the sideline, “I had a flashback,” he says. He thought of Mr. Enfield barking from the bench.

Bill Enfield retired from coaching at 57, after a handful of years as Shippensburg High’s varsity coach. But he never quite gave up the gig. As his son rose through the ranks — as an assistant with the Boston Celtics, then Florida State, then as coach at Florida Gulf Coast — Bill remained a regular sounding board.

That sound was rarely turned off when college basketball was on. His running commentary became a running joke among family and friends.

“He was always coaching,” Mark Enfield said. “I miss those days just sitting as a family, my dad, my brother.”

The pandemic kept them apart for most of their father’s final year, a devastating reality to which many other families could relate. The funeral in September was the first time much of the family was able to see each other.

Six months later, in Indianapolis, the Enfields gathered in the bleachers of Hinkle Fieldhouse, watching with delight as USC crushed Kansas.

It’d been an emotional season for them all, especially Andy’s mother, Barbara. Her son was in the midst of his best season as a coach, being chosen Pac-12 coach of the year, taking the Trojans to the Sweet 16. She knew his father would’ve loved every minute.

Local AAU basketball team, the Compton Magic, was once home for five players who are still playing in the NCAA tournament.

But now, the family was together again, watching basketball like always. “It felt almost normal,” Mark says. Even as Bill’s absence weighed on everyone’s mind.

His father was on Andy’s mind too. That morning, before the game, Barbara texted her son a photo. In it, Bill is drawing plays on his whiteboard, and Andy is looking at 3-by-5 notecards of drills and plays, the ones Bill kept long after his coaching career ended. Some of those concepts, Andy still teaches today.

With the photo came a message from his mom: “Your dad would’ve loved this team,” she wrote.

Those words were on his mind as he sat at the podium Sunday and dedicated USC’s win, arguably his most impressive in eight seasons, to his father.

These Trojans were a testament to his father’s lessons, after all. They played tough defense. They shared the ball. They were greater together than the sum of their parts. Most of all, the team had been built piece by piece, from the foundation up, in a place so few trusted it could be.

For Bill Enfield, it was a fitting tribute.


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