Basketball Fans: Be Careful What You Wish For
As a self-appointed “basketball guy” and long time season ticket holder, my brethren here on the blog usually look to me to weigh in on what has undoubtedly become the third most popular sport amongst the fan base. Lucky me. As I’m sure you readers would rather read about 2015 football recruiting than our basketball team, my challenge is to hold your attention, if even only for a few minutes.
Well, we pull no punches here at TRC. I’m going to say some things here that need to be said, and I want to make one thing clear: THESE COMMENTS ARE DIRECTED TO THOSE VOCAL FANS THAT WANTED COACH ODOM TO BE FIRED.
I remember it all very clearly. They said Odom couldn’t recruit. Sure, he had Devin and Zam on the roster, but he didn’t actually SIGN those guys, they transferred in. No matter that he DID SIGN Ro Balkman (NBA), Tarrance Kinsey (NBA), Sam Muldrow (diamond in the rough), Tre Kelley (scoring machine), Dominique Archie (budding star before injury), Mike Holmes (flawed but major talent) and Carlos Powell (tremendous heart and post moves), among others. Sure, some of those guys were nice players (again, they said), but they weren’t going to win The Big Dance for you.
Well, let me ask the bloodthirsty “Fire Odom” crowd now: wouldn’t you kill for a dynamic scorer like Tre Kelley or Devin Downey running the point, or for a Carlos Powell or Sam Muldrow making an actual post move in the paint? Wouldn’t you just love to see an athlete like Balkman or Archie finishing an alley oop? Well, we’re not seeing any of that now.
Not even close.
No, Odom – with his two NIT titles and mostly competitive teams – was not good enough for the fans. They remembered the glory days of the McGuire years and felt that they deserved better. After all, in the late 60’s and early 70’s we were a national basketball power! (Sound familiar? Did anyone notice the CTU fan holding up the 81 national championship sign during the 2012 Orange Bowl?)
Now, did I absolutely love Odom as a coach? Not especially; but I understood the state of our program and realized that he was as good a coach that we could expect to have under the circumstances. The guy knew the game and had previously achieved success in the toughest conference in America. All in all, I thought he did a pretty good job based on the recruits available to him.
Did he reach for some guys who couldn’t play? Sure he did. Did he lose to CTU too often? No doubt. But what Odom did accomplish was the continuation (after Fogler) of program that was respected within the conference and that actually had a modicum of respect nationally. Odom had name recognition as the guy who discovered and developed Tim Duncan, and Odom had enough credibility that he was able to persuade a supreme talent like Downey to transfer to USC when he probably would have been welcomed by almost any team in the ACC.
Now, we are pretty much a laughing stock, with losses this season to Elon and Tennessee State, and a mostly empty Colonial Life Arena for home games. Want to know how we stack up nationally? Check out our basketball page on ESPN.com and look at our horrifying national rankings in scoring, rebounding, assists and and field goal percentage. Be glad if you missed the halftime comments made by national commentator Doug Gottlieb (I’m not a fan, BTW) when we played UNC earlier this year.
Instead of sticking with Odom (remember, he left with Downey, Frederick, Holmes, Archie, and Muldrow ON the roster), he was forced out and we decided to go with Darrin Horn, the young gun with the hair. The Odom bashers had won. The boring and underachieving veteran was out, and the up and coming WKU coach (who after all, had gotten to one Sweet 16) was in. In case you have forgotten, Horn won 10 games in the SEC and 21 overall with the players he inherited from Odom. In other words, the cupboard was pretty well stocked with groceries. Instead, we started over with a new chef who had his own recipes.
This change is what the fans wanted, what they “deserved.” Now really, what exactly do we “deserve” as USC basketball fans? Despite an amazing run under McGuire and an SEC title under Fogler, our storied program has won exactly one NCAA tournament game in its history, and I think that was a consolation game. As far as basketball tradition goes, we don’t have much. Not much at all. With this as our reality (again, this sounds strangely familiar), a large segment of our fans cling to the belief that we should be able to reenter the national basketball scene with ease. The thinking is that the right coach is all we need.
Sadly, sports fans, it’s not 1971 anymore. While it may be a little easier to quickly achieve upward mobility in basketball as compared to football, the same basic principles apply in most cases. The teams with tradition (i.e., Kentucky, UNC, Kansas, Duke) usually win and win big on a consistent basis. For the most part, these programs don’t recruit, they select. While some of these schools have good coaches as well, a trained monkey could probably sit on the bench and win 20 games with some of their rosters. After the traditional elites, there’s a group of teams that have been good for quite some time and are close to achieving elite status: UConn, Syracuse, Gonzaga, and Michigan State being examples. When examining this second group, one thing stands out: coaching stability. These schools have stuck with coaches, year and year through thick and thin. After the elites and emerging elites, there’s everybody else. The everybody elses of the world try various methods to break into the next group. Some cheat (Tennessee, Florida, Oklahoma) while others hire and fire at will.
USC falls under the hire and fire category and is learning the hard way that Horn and company are not the quick fix some wanted him to be. Instead of taking steps forward, we have taken giant steps backwards. I would venture to say that none of our current starting five could start for the team that Horn inherited from Odom. And this is after four years.
Folks need to understand that it is very, very hard to win consistently in basketball at USC. Realize that the SEC in basketball is the equivalent of the ACC in football. The stud players from our neighboring states wouldn’t dream of coming here to play basketball (just imagine Clowney signing with NC State last year if you don’t understand my point). Meanwhile, too many of the great players our state produces are leaving for greener pastures (i.e., Raymond Felton to UNC). Also understand that Horn has signed most of the highly rated players in the state during his time at USC (Ellington, Slawson, Leonard). That should tell us something about the talent pool we are working with.
The only way we will ever achieve success in basketball will be to build a program step by step (see baseball, see football). Would Odom have eventually broken through with that coveted NCAA win? Perhaps not, but we’ll never know. Can Horn get there? It looks unlikely, but we will probably never get this answer either, because let’s face it, Darrin Horn is a goner.
The fans, with their lack of support for the program, have spoken.