Floyd took over a team at rock bottom. The Trojans were returning four players from a last-place team in the Pacific-10 Conference. After two years under Floyd’s influence, the Trojans enter the Pac-10 Tournament today at Staples Center as the third seed, their highest placement in the tournament’s 10-year history. USC’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament in five years is likely. Stewart, Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt – talented players who seemed lost under the previous coaching staff of Henry Bibby and, for a few months, Jim Saia – quickly rallied around the new leadership. “It was like we made it through a hurricane and when he walked in it was sunlight,” Stewart said of Floyd. “It was a new beginning for us.” Like Carroll, Floyd appears to be a better fit in college than in the pros – and not simply because of his win-loss record (93-235) in 31/2 seasons with Chicago and one in New Orleans. Tim Floyd attended most USC football home games last season, slipping in anonymously and watching the action like any other school employee. In a few more years, maybe he’ll trot into the Coliseum like a movie star, an entourage of the nation’s top recruits at his side, and receive the largest ovation of the day from 90,000 fans when shown on the big screen. That’s the treatment Pete Carroll receives at Galen Center, and Floyd is drawing comparisons to the celebrity coach in the way he has turned around the USC basketball program in two seasons. “The best thing to happen for me and this team was coach Floyd, him coming here,” senior Lodrick Stewart said. “He’s brought new life to us.” “Guys here are aspiring to be something, either in the NBA or in the real world,” Floyd said. “As a result, it’s easier to capture their listening at this level. I realized the impact I could have here is far greater, and the whole notion of putting together a team that fit your style of play attracted me.” In some ways, Floyd isn’t much different than Bibby, currently an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers. Both are hard-line coaches who want everything done their way and run a demanding practice. Floyd punishes players for missing so much as a tutoring session and forces players to run laps across the court for the mistake of one teammate while the offender watches. But while Bibby’s tactics alienated many players, Floyd’s are embraced. With his good-old-boy Southern charm, Floyd knows how to mix a stern hand with a velvet touch. Floyd’s office door is always open to meet with players about any of life’s issues, not just basketball. Though the players immediately took to Floyd, improving from 12-17 to a respectable 17-13 and a sixth-place finish in the conference last year, it was in the offseason that the players became a family, with Floyd assuming the role of father figure. The shooting death of point guard Ryan Francis in May was a shock to all the players, especially his former roommate, Young. “A dad doesn’t normally cry,” Young said. “He tries to be the brave one, the one who keeps his head up and looks out for the kids. So he looked out for us, he was there for us, he told us to keep our heads up. He didn’t show much emotion, but you could tell he was hurt.” Floyd, much more at ease in relating with people and the media than was Bibby, handled the death of Francis well publicly. He got the university to pay for Francis’ funeral, then flew Francis’ mother Paulette from Louisiana to attend a ceremony honoring Francis in the first game at the new Galen Center. Stewart has gone through a lot this season, with the death of his great-grandfather and the news that his mother had been hospitalized back in Mississippi for a nervous breakdown. He has no family members in Los Angeles for support, so he turned to Floyd. “He’s helped me get through it, calling me and checking up on me, making sure everything is all right, making sure I’m going to class,” Stewart said. “He’s just a great person to have around, and not only as a coach. We’ll have a relationship way after basketball.” On the court, Floyd instilled a defensive mindset into a team that used to think defense meant an occasional gamble for a steal. The Trojans allowed 78.3 points per game the season before Floyd’s arrival, 67.1 points last season and are currently holding teams to 64.1 per game. He took a USC team in disarray and turned it into an NCAA Tournament team in two years. The future looks even brighter. With a new arena to attract recruits, Floyd locked up the top prospect in the country for next season in O.J. Mayo and has another top-10 player, point guard Brandon Jennings, scheduled to come in the following year. “I feel like I have the best basketball job in the country,” Floyd said. “I know we haven’t had the level of success as some of these major programs. But why wouldn’t it happen here in Los Angeles, with this city, the talent in the area and now this facility?” Sound familiar? Carroll also is a defensive-minded coach and great recruiter. He took a team coming off a last-place season, made it respectable in his first year and took it to a major bowl in his second. The Trojans won the national championship his next two seasons, and Carroll became a Southern California icon. “We’re on the rise, especially with the guys coming in,” Pruitt said. “It’s only a matter of time before (Floyd) brings this team to that type of level. He’s on the way to getting that sort of attention and appreciation around campus and at games outside of basketball.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!