LOS ANGELES -- As his team continued to enjoy its undefeated start in 2016-17, Chimezie Metu offered a politically correct response to a question about Jan. 25, the day his USC squad will face crosstown foe UCLA, which also began the week with a flawless record.
"Honestly, we don't talk about it at all," Metu told ESPN.com. "We're just focused on ourselves."
But Duke transfer Derryck Thornton's Los Angeles roots and understanding of the rivalry would not allot similar courtesy.
"We talk about that all the time," Thornton said. "We both want to come out on top."
The locker-room banter between USC's stars weeks before their upcoming matchup against the Bruins does not surprise anyone who understands the fervent basketball pulse of this city. The real shock is Trojan coach Andy Enfield's rise and his success in making the Trojans relevant again, which adds meaning to the long-dormant rivalry and magnifies USC's national profile.
Three years ago, Enfield brought his "Dunk City" act from Florida Gulf Coast's Sweet 16 run and announced his West Coast arrival by winning ... two Pac-12 games in his debut season.
"We weren't as successful as we all hoped," Enfield said. "However, as a staff, we did think we could improve if we had the right mix of players."
A turn in the school's recruiting fortunes -- Enfield signed five top-100 recruits in three seasons and added two more via transfer -- helped the Trojans beat UCLA twice in the regular season and again in the Pac-12 tournament last year, while they secured the school's first NCAA tournament berth since 2011.
Now, Enfield leads a team without a loss, one of just six undefeated programs in America. His next step? Overcoming injuries and unexpected departures to prove USC's rise a year ago represented a new future for the program, not another West Coast fad.
"It's made really good strides," said Gary Franklin Sr., who leads the prestigious California Supreme grassroots program in Los Angeles, about Enfield's impact on the program. "I think it's back in the right direction."
The rise of the "Shot Doctor"
Enfield rustles through a few loose papers and files in his neat office tucked into the first floor of the Galen Center to find the gems he used to earn this plush office and the seven-figure salary he accepted when he left Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 for slightly sunnier skies in L.A.
"I have very few VHS copies left," he says. "I don't know where they are. They must be at home."
It's an unlikely, unconventional tale. But the VHS tapes he won't find engineered Enfield's coaching journey. They forced him to mature as a salesman, who didn't love the 9-to-5 world.
In the early 1990s, the former Division III star at Johns Hopkins graduated and accepted a gig selling business computer systems as a consultant at a large firm, Andersen Consulting. Not exactly his first choice.
"I didn't even know how to turn a computer on," Enfield said. "They trained me and a month later, I knew Cobalt computer language. I'm glad I don't do that anymore. This is much more fun."
He didn't last a year. After he left, he enrolled at the University of Maryland to pursue a master's degree in finance. That's when he birthed his brainchild: the "All Net Basketball" series of shooting tutorial VHS tapes and, later, DVDs. He introduced himself as the "shot doctor."
Enfield, who compiled a Division III-record 92.5 percent mark from the charity stripe, offered his shooting advice and techniques long before NBA franchises normalized the hiring of shooting specialists.
Enfield would cold-call coaches and make his pitch. He could help their teams, their players, he told them. Without the benefit of a YouTube link, however, Enfield had only one way to prove his value. He had to shoot.
"Many times, they'd want to see me shoot," Enfield said. "If I couldn't beat them in shooting, why the hell should they listen to me? I can still do it. I just can't move."
When Tulane coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. led the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1990s, he kept a box of résumés from coaches who all swore they could enhance his team. He threw most of them away, but the one sent by a young man who claimed to hold the NCAA's career mark in free-throw shooting stood out. So Dunleavy invited Enfield to the team's summer league practices in 1994.
"I let him do a demonstration," Dunleavy said. "I listened to him teach, and he taught some of the things I would teach."
So Dunleavy offered him a job. He had just become the general manager of the Bucks and realized he wouldn't have as much time to work on shooting techniques with his team. Enter Enfield.
Just one problem.
The Bucks didn't have a surplus of cash for another staffer.
Dunleavy offered Enfield a relatively low, flat fee with a perk: If any Bucks player raised his free throw mark more than 5 percent from the previous season, Dunleavy would give his new assistant an incremental bonus for each player's boost. So if a player went from 60 percent to 75 percent, Dunleavy would count the first 5 percent as nothing more than hard work and give Enfield cash for the extra 10 percent above that.
When asked if he gave Enfield $1,000 for each percentage point, Dunleavy said, "Something like that."
The Bucks made 70.2 percent of their free throws (25th among 27 squads) the year before Enfield arrived. Two years later, they made 74 percent of their free throws -- 17th in the NBA. Former All-Star Vin Baker elevated his free throw shooting percentage from 57 percent to 67 percent with Enfield's help.
"I think [Enfield] more than doubled his salary," Dunleavy said.
That job in Milwaukee led to an assistant coaching post with Rick Pitino and the Boston Celtics. He also helped Glenn Robinson Jr., Walt Williams and dozens of pros throughout his career as an assistant and a specialist.
Then, he left coaching. From 2000 through 2006, Enfield became a vice president at TractManager, his friend Thomas Rizk's healthcare startup currently valued at more than $100 million. Enfield invested in the business and helped it grow before jumping back into basketball as an assistant at Florida State under Leonard Hamilton, which then led him to FGCU and, later, USC.
The swift progression does not surprise Enfield's friend Dave Pietramala, the Johns Hopkins lacrosse coach who has led his program to two national championships. The Johns Hopkins alumni bonded on the court when Enfield decided to pursue his master's degree in finance at nearby University of Maryland after he ditched his computer consulting gig. When they played pickup basketball together, Pietramala and his lacrosse buddies versus Enfield and his basketball buddies, the USC coach would refuse to leave the court with a loss. He always relied on his determination, Pietramala said.
To make extra cash, the two hosted basketball and lacrosse clinics at Johns Hopkins together while the current USC coach was in school. Enfield had no background in lacrosse but focused on the business elements.
"What does a basketball guy know about lacrosse?" Pietramala said. "Nothing. But he saw a chance to make a buck."
Before he turned 30 years old, Enfield had created his own basketball brand (he made his first "All-Net Basketball" instructional video with former All-Star Glen Rice), worked on his master's degree, talked his way into a pair of NBA jobs, operated clinics in a sport he'd never played and accepted a leadership position with a multimillion-dollar startup.
Glen Rice and Andy Enfield in a shooting instructional video. Old school: pic.twitter.com/Mh9hPuz181— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 30, 2013
He had an obvious knack for selling his skills, wits and services.
But would his pitch work in Los Angeles?
Enfield makes noise on the West Coast
Prior to the 2014-15 season, the Pac-12 held an invitation-only gathering in San Francisco for its coaches and others affiliated with the league after its annual media day. There were memorable hamburger sliders and an open bar for coaches who mingled.
Enfield's unassuming presence seemed to belie everything that was happening in the room. He sat at an assigned table in the back, while his coaching peers conversed up front.
You could hear UCLA coach Steve Alford's booming voice and Wayne Tinkle's baritone. Cuonzo Martin and Sean Miller held court, too. And his new peers in the Pac-12 treated new Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley like the cool kid who'd just enrolled in school.
As the night progressed, Enfield's soft tone barely cut through the clamor.
"He's very mild-mannered," Pietramala said.
Mild-mannered, struggling and overlooked.
He couldn't base his pitch to fans and recruits on his record after winning 23 total games (just five in the Pac-12) and failing to reach the postseason in his first two seasons at USC. The "Dunk City" buzz had evaporated and the conversation turned into "Did Andy Enfield accept the right job?"
"[FGCU] was a great place to coach and a great place to interact with excellent coaches from other sports, but the opportunity at USC was one that I wanted," Enfield said. "When we came here as a staff at USC, I never looked back. ... We absolutely love USC."
So how would he revive USC? He treated the program like a business and carefully selected a staff that would complement his strengths and help him find the right talent.
"He grabbed a couple of assistant coaches from this area," said Jordan McLaughlin, who is averaging 13.6 points and 5.2 assists per game. "That definitely was smart on his part, grabbing a couple of guys that were born and raised in L.A., lived out here for their lives and played ball out here."
Assistant Jason Hart and associate head coach Tony Bland, both Los Angeles products, connected Enfield to the grassroots and high school coaches in the area. And once Enfield had the opportunity to sell USC as a destination to recruits, he delivered. He announced his rise in the national recruiting pool again last week when Charles O'Bannon Jr., No. 34 in the 2017 class per ESPN.com and the son of former UCLA star Charles O'Bannon Sr., committed to the Trojans over the Bruins and other suitors.
"He said he wanted to score in the first 8 seconds," McLaughlin said. "So, I mean, how can you turn that down?"
Today, more than one-fifth of USC's possessions are transition opportunities, per Synergy Sports. Nearly 70 percent of its offensive possessions come in the form of spot-ups, put-backs or fast breaks.
Tim Floyd, who stunned the college basketball world when he signed O.J. Mayo in his 2007 recruiting class, once brought flash to the Trojans, too.
But the school vacated its 21 wins from that season after allegations that one of Mayo's handlers accepted money on his behalf. Floyd resigned in 2009. The program's reputation was stained.
David Blu, a former USC standout who won a Euroleague title with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2004, said his overseas teammates from major programs playfully taunted him during that era.
"It was especially hard during tournament time," said Blu about the rocky stretch in the post-Floyd era. "Everyone was asking if 'You saw the game last night?' But the current coaching staff has made our alumni really proud."
The Trojans had reached the NCAA tournament just once (2011) in the four years under Enfield's predecessor, Kevin O'Neill.
Enfield's first three recruiting classes featured five players listed among ESPN.com's top-100 -- all California natives -- a haul USC hadn't matched in seven previous seasons combined. That mark does not include Shaqquan Aaron (Louisville) and Derryck Thornton (Duke), two Los Angeles natives who transferred home to play for Enfield.
"I know when I first came here, my goal was to change the culture of USC basketball, and I feel like we have," said Elijah Stewart, USC's leading scorer at 15.5 PPG. "We're starting to get better recruits. Top recruits are starting to consider us in their top four and that's just a testament to what me and those four freshmen [in the 2014 recruiting class] did. People said, 'SC isn't a basketball school.' But we came in and turned it around."
Not so fast -- especially for a team with an average attendance of 4,606 fans last season. The Trojans finished 23rd in year-to-year attendance increases (1,054) last season but the average crowd is still less than half of Galen Center's capacity.
The next three months will present the real test for Enfield and his squad. Nikola Jovanovic and Julian Jacobs, the team's No. 2 and No. 3 scorers, respectively, a year ago, entered the NBA draft after NBA execs offered lukewarm assessments on the two undrafted prospects. Katin Reinhardt (11.4 PPG last season, now at Marquette) and three other players who logged limited minutes last season transferred over the summer.
Earlier this month, Bennie Boatwright (10.8 PPG) suffered a knee sprain that could sideline him until mid-January. And a USC squad that's faced just one team listed in KenPom.com's top 40 (it was a road win over No. 35 Texas A&M) will face Oregon, Cal, Colorado and Arizona prior to its Jan. 25 matchup against UCLA.
Who are the Trojans? We're not sure yet.
"Now, we're trying to keep building and sustain it," Enfield said.
At Florida Gulf Coast, Enfield attracted power-school job offers after one miraculous NCAA tournament run. Now, he's charged with shaping USC into a perennial Pac-12 contender and viable rival to the school across town.
Enfield said he doesn't envy UCLA or even exaggerate the stakes of their upcoming matchup in January. But he also has a goal: to do his part to make Los Angeles a two-team college basketball town again.
Enfield's nice-guy persona masks his ambitious nature and the edge he used to excel at Johns Hopkins and as a young coach. Three years ago, he clashed with former USC coach Tim Floyd, now at UTEP, in a tense verbal exchange during the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. Staffs from both schools had to be separated at a reception prior to the tournament.
"We play up-tempo basketball here," he once told his players during his scrimmage. "If you want to play slow, go to UCLA."
Later, he called the comment nothing more than a sarcastic jab intended for his team, not the public.
Perhaps. But it's clear Enfield wants to win big and make his city gush about Trojans basketball for once.
"We respect UCLA tremendously," Enfield said. "Their tradition, they have great players, great coaches and it's a great institution, but our belief was USC is also a top-25 school academically in the country, we have great tradition in all sports here and why can't we be relevant on a national scale as well?"