NASSAU, The Bahamas -- The Battle 4 Atlantis does not begin until Thursday, but the coaching staffs from USC and UTEP staged a battle of their own in full public view Wednesday night.
During an otherwise placid reception for the eight teams competing here, USC coach Andy Enfield and UTEP coach Tim Floyd got into a heated discussion that quickly escalated, with assistants from the respective schools having to be separated. The exchange did not become physical and the staffs quickly left the party.
UTEP and USC are not currently scheduled to play each other in the tournament, but they could face off Saturday in a consolation bracket game.
Floyd and Enfield have been exchanging public words since last summer, when Floyd, who coached at USC from 2005-09, accused Enfield of tampering with Isaac Hamilton, a guard from Southern California who had signed a national letter of intent with UTEP. Floyd refused to release Hamilton from his letter, and Hamilton subsequently signed with UCLA. Last week, Enfield was quoted in a Men's Journal article saying that Floyd "shows up every day at work and realizes he lives in El Paso, Texas, and he's pissed off that he didn't get the USC job two months ago."
According to Enfield, when he saw Floyd speaking with Lea Miller, the tournament's director, he approached Floyd in hopes of ending the bad blood between them. "I was trying to tell him that I was sorry that we had words and that we should try to put this behind us," Enfield said. "I thought it would be a twenty-second conversation."
Efforts to reach Floyd Wednesday night were unsuccessful.
The conversation between the head coaches lasted for several minutes, with Floyd doing most of the talking. As it intensified, Enfield's wife, Amanda, came to stand next to her husband. Floyd did not direct any of his remarks toward her or Miller.
After about five minutes, three of Enfield's assistant coaches, Kevin Norris, Tony Bland and Jason Hart, stood behind Floyd. Soon Floyd could be heard saying to Hart, "Do you want to kick my ass?"
At that point, Floyd's assistant coach, Bob Cantu, who served as USC's interim head coach after the school fired Kevin O'Neill during the 2013 regular season and was sitting at a table a few feet away, stood up and joined the conversation. While Enfield, his wife and Floyd walked away, Cantu got into an argument with Bland and Hart. Those men were separated, but a few seconds later Bland rushed at Cantu. He was held back by UTEP strength coach Chisan Jones.
As various onlookers tried to get the principals to leave the party, Hart had to be restrained as well.
"I saw three USC assistants surround my head coach with Andy and his wife, so I walked up and said, 'Why are we arguing about a kid who signed a letter of intent in November,' and after that two of his assistants came after me and rushed me," Cantu said. "It really is completely unprofessional and unfortunate. It caught me completely off guard." Cantu later added, "You have to understand, they're on their heels because they tampered with Isaac Hamilton and Tim called them out on a national level. That's the bottom line."
Bland, however, claimed that Cantu inflamed the confrontation as it was about to die down. "I was thinking this is bad but it's about to be over, and then Cantu walked over there," Bland said. "He was getting all super aggressive and that's when I lost it. That's when you saw me getting restrained. We were reactionaries in this whole thing. If it wasn't for Tim Floyd shouting in Andy's face, shouting in his face, it wouldn't have happened."
Asked later why he approached Floyd to begin with, Enfield replied, "Because I've always liked Tim. He's always been a good guy to me. I wanted to let him know that I was upset that this whole ordeal happened. I wanted to let him know that I respect him."