They took different routes and preach different basketball styles, but UCLA Coach Steve Alford and USC Coach Andy Enfield, hired two days apart last April, will be linked when they make their debuts in new roles Friday.
Alford, accustomed to scrutiny since he was a 16-year-old high school phenom in New Castle, Ind., ascended a series of coaching steps before he got the job at UCLA, once considered the pinnacle of the profession. Too many years of boring basketball and bad recruiting have tarnished the luster and alienated fans. Prices for some tickets for UCLA's season opener Friday against Drexel at Pauley Pavilion — a ridiculously late 9 p.m. start — were cut by up to 40%.
On the court, Alford favors having patience to find the best shot. Off the court, he will need patience through the inevitable if unfair comparisons with John Wooden's Bruins legacy.
"I don't look at Coach Wooden as being a burden. I see that as being a blessing," Alford said.
Enfield, a former Division III player and NBA shooting coach who briefly left coaching for the business world, became the flavor of the month when his Florida Gulf Coast "Dunk City" team reached an NCAA regional semifinal last spring. Making the jump from a mid-major program is tricky. Enfield must do it while trying to make basketball relevant at a school known for football success.
"You have to win and you have to have some sustainability with your program," said Enfield, whose team will open against Utah State at Logan, Utah.
"It would be nice to have a product on the floor that fans want to come see and pay money and buy tickets for. So we understand we need to play hard and be exciting to watch. And the wins will come. I think we'll win a lot of games this year and as we keep building this program, we'll get talented players in here and develop them."
Enfield scored a recruiting win over UCLA by getting a commitment from Etiwanda High point guard Jordan McLaughlin, but USC is projected to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12 Conference standings and UCLA — which won't have appendicitis-stricken forward Travis Wear for its opener — is projected as a top-five conference finisher.
In terms of verbal blunders, the two coaches are even.
Alford was defensive during his introductory news conference about his support of one of his former Iowa players, Pierre Pierce, who was accused of crimes related to a sexual assault and pleaded guilty to several charges. Alford issued an apology the following week, but the sour memory lingers.
Enfield's gaffe seemed like gamesmanship. In a remark he said he didn't intend to become public, he scolded a player in practice by saying, "If you want to play slow, go to UCLA." If that's his worst fault, the Trojans are in good shape.
Alford comes off as more polished after having been in the spotlight as Mr. Basketball in Indiana, an NCAA champion at Indiana and in two-plus decades of coaching. Yet, he said the other day he was jittery about his Bruins debut.
"It's just opening day. Twenty-three years in, it doesn't make a difference. I always want to feel that," he said. "As a player I felt the same way. If you don't get nervous, if you don't feel that, then you're not both feet in as a competitor."
Sophomore guard Kyle Anderson said the Bruins have made a smooth transition to Alford. "I think everybody hit it off just right," Anderson said. "We all had a common goal and that's to someday be a good team and get better along the road."
A modest goal, but it's a start. "I think this is a special team," Alford said. "I've told this team from the start that if we improved daily, if we seek excellence daily, this is going to be a very hard team to play against and a very hard team to beat."
Enfield, with his gap-toothed smile and stubble, seems more relaxed, the guy who lucked out when he offered a friend of a friend a ride to an NCAA tournament game and she turned out to be supermodel Amanda Marcum. Now married, they're parents of three kids, ages 7, 6 and 2.
He favors short, intense practices and high-tempo games, and players had no trouble learning his system. Being able to execute it was another story.
"I think it took more time getting in shape than anything," senior guard J.T. Terrell said. "It's fast-paced at both ends of the floor."
Asked whether players had to adjust mentally to his philosophy, Enfield smiled.
"This is just basketball. I think some people read into it a little too much at times," he said. "I've never met a player that did not want to get better. I've met a lot of players that didn't do what it takes to get better, but that's part of coaching. You try to help motivate these guys and put them in position to succeed."
In that aim, Enfield and Alford are again linked. They took different roads to get here, but it's where they lead their respective teams from here that will define their careers.