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Point guard Tahj Eaddy has found the ideal situation at USC

Since he was 17, Tahj Eaddy has lived the life of a basketball nomad.

It was slim like a rail then, barely pushing 6 feet, just 150 pounds. Too small to turn heads on the recruiting route, no matter how many plays he made every night for Notre Dame High in West Haven, Connecticut. « I was late, » said Eaddy, now 24.

It took another seven years before he became the game-changing point guard that he has become at USC, where he and the 17th-place Trojans play Arizona on Saturday at the Galen Center. As a graduated transfer, Eaddy has set the tone in his only season for the Trojans in first place (18-3, 12-2 Pac-12), whose trajectory points skyward as March approaches.

But even as a lanky young man, Eaddy was completely convinced where basketball was going to take him.

So he obediently followed wherever he called. First, Memphis for his senior year of high school. Then Atlanta for a school year of preparation. It was during that extra season at the Skill Factory, in nearby Woodstock, Georgia, that he finally grew, filling his body enough to draw attention for the 25 points per night he had been racking up.

« Even though he was performing on the court, he had big games and the recruiters were like, ‘Hey, this kid is really good, but he’s too small,’ » Eaddy said. “There was always an asterisk next to my name. Going to high school, that really helped my career.

It took him to the southeastern state of Missouri, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where his first college season in 2016-17 did not turn out quite as he had envisioned. As a freshman, he averaged 7.5 points per game, while leading the Redhawks in three-point percentage (42%) and from the free throw line (92%).

But some nights, his minutes decreased for no clear reason. Eaddy admitted he was frustrated.

« It was a learning experience, » he said. But I never pouted. I just did it. I knew my time would eventually come. He knew he had enough talent. I was going to have to wait a bit for my turn.

That is all he could do the following year. After transferring to Santa Clara, Eaddy was left out of the 2017-18 season due to NCAA rules, eagerly awaiting a fresh start on the West Coast. When his moment finally came, he made the most of it, leading Santa Clara in scoring (15.5 points) and minutes (35.5).

But next season, with almost the same lineup around him, his playing time was cut by coach Herb Sendek. The guard played 10 minutes less per game and could not understand why.

« It was the direction the coach wanted to go, » Eaddy said. “So I just did it. But I knew it was time for a change.

Meanwhile, Andy Enfield was changing. Two guards, Kyle Sturdivant and Elijah Weaver, were unexpectedly transferred. Three more exhausted their eligibility. The USC coach had only one returning guard (Ethan Anderson) left on the roster for the 2019-20 season, when his staff began sifting through the NCAA transfer portal.

Eaddy seemed a perfect fit. He had already made a huge impression as a sophomore in December 2018, when his 21 points and eight assists led Santa Clara to a double overtime victory for the Trojans. When USC coaches called him on the phone, Enfield said, they were surprised by his calm confidence.

The promise of an opportunity was enough to convince Eaddy to choose USC over Connecticut, his hometown school.

And for a reorganized squad that needs a trailblazer, « Tahj was a perfect fit, » Enfield said.

« He could score the ball, » Enfield said. “He is a good playmaker. But we also really enjoyed his personality. Talking to him and his parents, we thought he was really rooted and mature. We thought that by entering the Pac-12, he would seize the opportunity to play at a higher level. We thought he would have a chip on his shoulder to prove himself.

That gamble has paid off over the course of the Pac-12 season, with USC on a seven-game winning streak, making its best start since the 1973-74 season, and Eaddy in the midst of a fiery streak, with 47 points on. his last two games.

« The only way this team was going to be this good was if a guy like Tahj came in and made a difference, » Enfield said. He has certainly done that.

The Trojans have won more in February than in any other season under Enfield and Eaddy, who are trading at 6-2 and 165 pounds, averaging 17.4 points per game this month. He has been instrumental in unlocking an inside-out offense with 7-footer Evan Mobley atop the Pac-12 in scoring.

« They’ve really allowed me to be myself, » said Eaddy, who is averaging 13.7 points per game on the season.

After spending seven years hopping from team to team, it’s the kind of situation Eaddy had been looking for all along. But by no means, he assured, will his nomadic journey end this March.

« I have no doubt that one day I will play in the NBA, » Eaddy said. “I understand that my path will be what it will be. But I have no doubt ”.

UNTIL NEXT TIME
VS. ARIZONA

When: 3 pm, Saturday
Where: Galen Center
In the air: TV: Fox; Radius: 790
To update: It’s been a tough month for coach Sean Miller and Arizona. The Wildcats (14-8, 8-8) have won just one of five in February, sitting at .500 in the Pac-12 and entering Saturday’s game in desperate need of a win. That desperation could help surprise USC, which has a seven-game winning streak. Or it could secure another trouble-free victory for the Trojans as Arizona has no one to match with seven-foot star Evan Mobley.