The first duel between the new coaching staffs at UCLA and USC didn't take place on the floor at Pauley Pavilion or Galen Center.
It played out during the summer on the recruiting circuit.
Steve Alford and Andy Enfield went head-to-head for Southern California's premier point guard prospect, a battle the USC coach won Wednesday when Etiwanda High's Jordan McLaughlin committed to the Trojans. McLaughlin, Rivals.com's No. 43 prospect, chose USC over UCLA, Kansas and Indiana.
That USC was able to out-duel three blue bloods for McLaughlin reflects the appeal of Enfield's revved-up system and the importance of his decision to hire assistant coaches with ties to the Los Angeles area. USC assistant Tony Bland already had a longstanding relationship with McLaughlin and his family from when he was recruiting the point guard to San Diego State.
It also couldn't have hurt USC that Enfield opted to make McLaughlin his clear-cut top priority at point guard rather than pursuing other options. UCLA, on the other hand, pursued Josh Perkins just as aggressively as it did McLaughlin and also targeted Quentin Snider last month once it became clear both other point guards might head elsewhere.
With Perkins choosing Gonzaga last month and McLaughlin picking USC on Wednesday, UCLA's lone remaining point guard target is Snider, a onetime Louisville commit also considering Illinois, Michigan State and UConn. Snider has visited UCLA and Illinois already and reportedly has trips scheduled to Michigan State and UConn later this month.
If Snider doesn't select UCLA, Alford will likely find himself in scramble mode this spring in his search to find a point guard. There is no true point guard on UCLA's 2013-14 roster and no obvious remaining class of 2014 candidate, though former UTEP signee Isaac Hamilton could be an option if the Bruins show interest and decide he can play the position.
Point guard issues would put Alford in a spot Ben Howland frequently found himself in the past few seasons.
One of the reasons Howland was fired last spring was his inability to find a point guard heir apparent to Jordan Farmar, Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison. The former UCLA coach unsuccessfully tried the likes of Jerime Anderson, Matt Carlino and Lazeric Jones before finally finding brief success last season with one-year transfer Larry Drew III.
USC, however, is set at guard for the foreseeable future, with McLaughlin scheduled to arrive next fall and UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt eligible to play for the Trojans beginning in 2014. Reinhardt has expressed interest in playing on the ball more at USC than he did at UNLV, but former top 75 recruit could also play alongside McLaughlin at shooting guard as well.
One recruiting coup for USC doesn't signal that the pecking order in Southern California is changing — UCLA has enough talent to contend in the Pac-12 next season, while the rebuilding Trojans are likely to struggle.
Still, McLaughlin's commitment is a significant is a significant boost for USC. And it probably doesn't hurt that it comes at the expense of the Trojans' crosstown rivals.