Mascot change a symbol of new brand

first_imgUSC doesn’t throw out some cartoon, costumed mascot on the football field like many other colleges. Instead, Tommy Trojan rides his noble steed Traveler around the field to pump up the crowd. And the pair often succeeds in rousing the Coliseum after each USC touchdown.The basketball team, however, appears to be going in a different direction — and not just because there’s no room for Traveler to gallop around the Galen Center.On Wednesday, USC unveiled the new Tommy Trojan and Traveler, a more kid-friendly version of the mascot with full-on cartoon costumes. The new mascots will be cheering from the Galen Center every home game for both the men’s and women’s basketball team.The mascot change in itself is not a major development in USC athletics, but sparks a greater discussion that the basketball team has clearly answered and the football team will be asked at the end of this current season: What’s next?USC men’s basketball comes into its season opener today at Utah State with a drastically different-looking program from last season. The biggest change of course is new head coach Andy Enfield, the high-flying bundle of energy taken from Florida Gulf Coast to lead this year’s team.Enfield led Florida Gulf Coast University to the Sweet Sixteen of last year’s NCAA Division I National Championship tournament. Florida Gulf Coast had easily the maddest run of March Madness — well, save for maybe Kevin Ware’s right fibula. The Eagles came into the tournament as a No. 15 seed and shocked the No. 2-seeded Georgetown Hoyas, then upset the 7-seeded San Diego State Aztecs before ultimately falling to          No. 3-seeded Florida.The Eagles used a fast-paced style, pushing transition whenever possible and avoiding set 5-on-5 half-court possessions, and had arguably the best dunkers in the tournament.USC basketball, on the other hand, spent all of March Madness on the couch. For the second year in a row, the men’s team didn’t qualify for the 68-team tournament. The team finished 14-18 overall with a slightly more respectable 9-9 finish in Pac-12 play. Former head coach Kevin O’Neill was fired midway through the year after going 6-26 the year before with only one win and 17 losses in conference play. Former interim head coach Bob Cantu did well to prevent the season from becoming another complete failure like the year before, but the team still missed the tournament.Athletic Director Pat Haden obviously wanted to make a splash in the coaching market to see if that would turn things around in the Galen Center. So the Trojans made Enfield a contract offer he could not refuse — no surprise that USC has a little more financial support behind its storied athletic program than Florida Gulf Coast — and fans have been anxiously waiting to see the new look of the team ever since.Enfield isn’t the only change to this year’s basketball team. Since Enfield was announced as the new head coach, several noteworthy players have transferred to USC, including former Maryland point guard Pe’Shon Howard, former UNLV shooting guard Katin Reinhardt and former Charlotte forward Darion Clark. Though the new players might not be enough for USC to legitimately compete for the Pac-12 title just yet, the surge of player interest since the new hire shows how much a coach can influence the recruiting process.The question Enfield will have to answer is if an exciting new recruiting pitch is enough to change the program’s dynamics. Will March Madness become a rite of passage for USC basketball players every year like it is for schools such as Duke, UNC, Louisville or even UCLA? Is transitioning to a fun style of play all that it will take to build some tradition around USC basketball?It’s the same question USC football will have to address at the end of the season. Unlike Enfield’s squad, the Trojans who compete in the Coliseum already have a lot of tradition to build on. But recent struggles beg the question of whether or not a team needs something more in today’s game.Should USC bring in a football coach that can run a spread offense? Is the traditional pro-style offense that won USC two Heismans and two national titles (insert NCAA sanction joke here) from 2004 to 2005 too old-school? Can USC rely on its tradition, or does it need to change the face of the football program with a new coach, new offense and even a new costumed mascot?The pro-style offense is the same style that legendary head coach John McKay relied on to mold USC into a national power long before Pete Carroll came and built upon the tradition. But today, so many teams are replacing traditional offenses with no-huddle, hurry-up, pass-heavy, dual-threat quarterback offenses because the system is both much more fun to watch and much more fun to play, regardless of any real strategic benefit that such a system could bring.Interim head football coach Ed Orgeron has shown on the football field that the right coach can certainly make a huge difference just by bringing a bunch of new energy, even if most of the style of play stays the same. Maybe the basketball team didn’t need to totally change the team’s style of play, and just needed to bring in more enthusiasm at the head coaching position.USC has some time before it has to answer all of the football team’s big questions. For now, Trojan fans can finally start enjoying one of the greatest times in all of USC sports, when the tail end of football season overlaps with the beginning of basketball season and fans have twice as many games to watch.And since the basketball team tips off tonight at Utah State, the Trojan faithful won’t have to wait long to see if a new coach — or mascot — on the court is all the program needs to kick-start a streak of success to rival that of their counterparts on the football field. “Holthouse Party” runs every other Friday. To comment on this story, email Luke at [email protected] or visit


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