USC introduces Eric Musselman as new men's basketball coach

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Friday, April 5, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- Eric Musselman finally had a chance to catch his breath. Sitting next to athletic director Jen Cohen, he calmly surveyed the crowd at his introduction asUSC's men's basketball coach Friday.

It was the culmination of a hurried courtship. Andy Enfield left the job earlier in the week after 11 years to coach atSMU. Cohen immediately targeted Musselman, who was coming off his first losing season in five years atArkansas.

"It became very clear that he was the right person at the right time for USC men's basketball," Cohen said of her first major coaching hire since taking over in August. "He's a proven winner. He not only builds elite, high-performing teams, he knows how to sustain them."

For his part, Musselman was intrigued, saying, "I knew right away it was something of great interest."

The Trojans went 15-18 overall and 8-12 in the Pac-12, the first time in five years they didn't win at least 20 games under Enfield.

"We think the potential here is through the roof," Musselman said. "Coach Enfield did great things for 11 years here. We want to continue to do things that he's done and try to build on some of those things as well."

Musselman is already under the gun to hire a coaching staff and assemble a roster. Guard Boogie Ellis is out of eligibility, and juniorKobe Johnson said Thursday that he has committed to crosstown rival UCLA. Freshman Bronny James, son ofLeBron James, said Friday that he is declaring for the NBA draft while also retaining his college eligibility and entering the transfer portal.

"I need to try to get a hold of Bronny. I've texted him," Musselman said. "Certainly he's got a lot of options, and we respect those options. We just want him to know that, hey, this opportunity here, if you want to play at USC, we'd love to have him. Such a talented young man."

Star freshman Isaiah Collier, who could declare for the draft, attended the news conference and stayed afterward to chat with Musselman. McDonald's All American guard Trent Perry of nearby Harvard-Westlake decommitted from USC after Enfield left, although he said he is keeping the Trojans as an option.

Musselman said he would be talking to other current players later in the day. He arose at 5 a.m. PT and started texting players at schools back East. He indicated he's likely to bring along a couple of staff members from Arkansas to join him.

"The most important thing is recruiting," Musselman said. "I think you can build a roster fairly quickly if you have the appropriate plan."

USC put on quite a show in welcoming Musselman at the Galen Center. Members of the band and cheer squad were on hand, along with Traveler, the white horse familiar at football games, who stood in the hallway. Watching from the front row were Musselman's wife, Danyelle; their daughter, Mariah, wearing USC colors; and his son Michael, who is director of recruiting at Arkansas. He has another son, Matthew.

The Trojans, along with crosstown rival UCLA, are heading to the Big Ten next season. They averaged 6,302 fans in 15 games at 10,258-seat Galen Center. Arkansas, meanwhile, averaged capacity crowds of 19,267 fans over 17 games at Bud Walton Arena.

"We need an elite home-court advantage," Cohen said. "Eric has proven that he can unite the student body, he can unite the fans, he can unite the community to fill up Galen Center and show everybody in the Big Ten that we have that home-court advantage, too."

Musselman noted the success of the USC women's team, which reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time in 30 years. He already has chatted with coach Lindsay Gottlieb.

"During the interview process they were making a huge run, and it was so cool to watch," he said.

It's Musselman's third go-round in Los Angeles. He said his first job out of the University of San Diego was with theLA Clippersas an account executive selling tickets in 1987. He later coached theLakers' G League team.

He's been texting with Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten, whom he knew during his days with the NBA'sAtlanta Hawks.

"I don't think there's any question that this is like a dream job for us," Musselman said, "not just me but for my family."