A few of us were allowed to watch our first practice of the season yesterday. Only three of us from the media cared to show-up which surprised me considering how many experts with pens there are out there right now condeming Coach Odom and his staff before the season has even begun. Only Steve Weisman from The State, Rich Taylor and myself took the time to attend. Anyway, after watching the practice yesterday I am convinced that this third team of Odom's might be a lot better than some fans have been thinking up until now. As Coach Odom told me yesterday, "We may not be as physical as last year, but we will be quicker and and we will be much more of a finese type team, although I really don't like using that word."
One of the newest kids is Renaldo Balkman and let me share this with you, he is very athletic. He seems to be one of those guys that does not drill well, sort of quiet, but when you turn the clock on and put the refs on the court he lights up. It was like watching two different people. He's very fast, quick and agile. He has a decent shot although from what I could tell it was a little flat - still effective. I like him.
Brandon Wallace is not going to be a major contributor this year in the SEC. He needs to gain about 30 pounds because he is a bean pole right now - but an athletic and smooth bean pole. Long arms and a competitor, he'll see his minutes and he'll play, but look for him to turn it on next year and the next. For now if they get six or seven productive minutes a game from him they will be doing well. But he has definite potential and when I say long arms that is an understatement.
Tre Kelly is not practicing because of an ankle injury but Coach Odom told me he will return to at least partial practices by Wednesday.
There is a JuCo transfer by the name of Josh Gonner who impressed the heck out of me. He's only 6-2 but quick as a Fighting Gamecock and he can flat-out shoot. He's got great jumping ability too as I saw him put-back a rebound from underneath the basket backwards with a slam dunk in your face mamma jamma pow whammy move of authority. He can play and he is very enthusiastic. He never stops moving and he is a floor general - a leader on the court that motivates those around him. Watch for him, he is # 31 and I believe you are going to really like what you see. He has the word 'special' written all over him. How he is incorportated into the fabric of this team is going to be very important to the team's fortunes this season in my opinion.
Paulius Joneliunas is a physical specimen with outstanding athletic skills and he is very fundamentally sound. He listens well to the coaches when they are coaching him. He is already better than Marius Petravicious was when he graduated in my opinion. Joneliunas is a decent short jumper shooter with a command of using the backboard which he likes to do from the right side particularly. He also likes to bang inside which Carlos Powell and Kerbrell Brown can attest. What I really like about him is how he plays defense with those long arms of his. Like I said he is very fundementally sound and he does a lot of things the right way like getting down in the proper stance and being agressive on defense. His periphial vision is excellent as he seemed to bat a couple of low passes away without actually looking towards the passer but instead keeping his concentration on the man in front of him. He has natural ability. Like Wallace he may not see a lot of minutes this season but I think he might be very good down the road.
Here is a bonus in my opinion. Terrance Kinsley is all grown up. No longer the awkward, lanky and unsure young man that he was last season. He now appears to be primed for a season of contribution to this basketball team at two guard - and he appears to be a natural shooter with nice arch and outstanding rotation. He can also jump through the roof. I like the way he plays defense too ... looks like a good all-around player.
The remainder of the team fills out nicely with the usual suspects. Carlos Powell is as intense as ever. He obviously loves playing the game of basketball. He is my favorite because he brings enthusiasm and confidence to the court. If he's learned to understand the team concept of the game during the off season, then look for Carlos to really come into his own during the upcoming campaign. Kebrell Brown is back and is fully recovered from his knee injury. This team is going to need Brown to be full speed to reach their max - Brown is a shooter but also an excellent defender when he wants to be.
Michael Boyton appears to have lost a couple of pounds and is quicker for it. He still dribbles too high in my opinion but the coaches were on him for that. I think they were working on him leaning forward in his dribble, closer to the ground especially when moving, and that might solve that 'too high' problem. A lot of the Gamecocks' fortunes this year are going to rest on Boyton's ability to sink the deep jumper and the threes but his shot looked much more sound than in past years and he is not afraid to put it up. Rolondo Howell is practicing with the team but will not play in the first twelve games. Howell is a talent but his intensity will always be questioned in my book, even in practice, until he proves otherwise. If Howell had Powell's intensity he would be an All-American small forward. John Chappell has been working on his low post game. At 6-10 he and Joneliunas are the two tallest players on the team this year and Chappell will be needed to earn his scholarship and contribute to the fortunes of this team. Ivan Howell can still shoot the lights out of the basket but he has some work to do following his shot and banging the boards. He is also by far the worst defensive player on the team in my opinion - he can not play a decent lick of defense. But he can shoot the ball so there is probably a place for him on this team even knowing that the current coaching staff demands good defense from its players. Jarod Gerald will work at number two on the point behind the senior Boyton, and Gerald is a playmaker but still needs to gain confidence shooting the short jumper when he penetrates, not to mention the fact that he has to pull up and take the long jumper when it is available to him. Gerlad has come along since last season but still needs to work on several aspects of his game fundementally speaking. And lastly, Gerald needs to make sure to take care of business in the classroom. Take that for what it is worth.
Bottom line is that if this team can develop inner chemistry during the early part of the season while their schedule allows, then they may just surprise us. I saw something out there that I cannot put my finger on but it woke me up and made me take notice. I know a lot of people are down on Coach Odom right now but if our fans will give this team a chance they just might give them something to cheer about before all is said and done. Do not ask me why. Right now it is all going to depend on how they mesh as the season progresses and how they handle certain obstacles that are going to come their way. But if they can form themselves into a close knit group by the time Ro Howell returns, and if they are able to cultivate their confidence during the early schedule, you may see this group make waves as the season progresses. I have faith in Coach Odom to handle that aspect of this team's development. The more I am around him the more I like this man along with his character and will to be the best.
- Russ Perry
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