Togetherness, Trust, Makes This Team Special

The Gamecocks are experiencing their first rocky-road of the season having lost three of their last four, two of those at the hands of highly ranked opponents - two of those on the road in the SEC. But this basketball team persists to overcome, constantly striving to be better. There is a reason for that - a reason that will help them to achieve and overcome to a higher level of basketball existence. It is written in the cards ...

Adversity is something all great teams, no matter the sport, must deal with during the course of a season. Less than average teams fail in the face of adversity. Good teams survive. Great teams persevere and remain constant, not allowing the lumps in the road to sway them from their path.

The 2003/04 Gamecock basketball team has what it takes to overcome the recent defeats. Close losses hurt the most and at times they might serve to dishearten some, frustrate others. The overtime loss to sixth ranked Mississippi State at home could be a bitter pill to swallow for most teams - but the University of South Carolina basketball team taking the court these days is prepared.

"I broke my right leg in the seventh grade and then my left leg in the eighth grade," started guard Josh Gonner. "I played football (receiver) in the seventh grade and then I broke my other one playing basketball in the eighth grade. (Josh was All-State his senior year in high school as a receiver in football.) And then I had another leg fracture in the ninth grade playing basketball. That taught me early about overcoming adversity and playing through things."

Each player seems to have their own story to tell. Yet each is focused on the present and the unit as a whole. They move as one both on and off the court and this, more than anything, will pull them through in their minds.

"I mean it seems like we have all turned into brothers," continued Gonner. "Everything we do we do it together. We are together half of the day if not all of the day. If one of us goes to the mall then a bunch of us go to the mall. I mean we make dinner for ourselves and then we all eat together. It has nothing to do with basketball, but at the same time it has everything to do with basketball."

While most teams might find themselves down mentally right now, this team is intent on not allowing that to happen. Josh elaborated, "On the court I mean when somebody is down and out it seems like everybody is picking them up. It seems like we all make sure of that. We do a lot of stuff together. Five o'clock in the morning we are together, we sleep in the same rooms, we are always around each other and that has brought us closer together as a team and it will help us down this stretch. Already it feels like I have been knowing these guys my whole life. I room with Trey, he doesn't even lock his door, he just leaves it open, it's like we are brothers, like we are a family, and that's what's going to take us where we need to go. We're not worried at all."

Carlos Powell, the team motivator who seems to show the most emotion on the court but not off, elludes to something powerful and important when it comes to overcoming a typical season's ups and downs."

"Basically this is as close as a team as we have ever had since I got here. My freshman year we were a pretty close team but this year we are really close," said Powell. "A lot of guys on this team you can have fun with - not a lot of older guys like it used to be. And we're (Michael Boynton and I) are just trying to teach the guys to have fun, to not worry about everything that happens for whatever reason. You have to put that stuff behind you. You absolutely must put the losses behind you and drive on."

Carlos continued, "It will pay off on the court because we play hard for each other. Even early in the season you could see it. The new guys play with heart and it is paying off, besides, they're not really new guys anymore.

So what is the overall attitude of the team? Every player and every coach? What are the key factors involved in getting back to their early season winning ways?

Powell had an answer.

"Well we are just going out there right now and trying to keep our calm and composure ... trying to do things as best as possible. But you know when we get hyped we really get hyped and we can be a pretty good team when we get it going. We're not a bad team now, we just have to keep working harder. We're not doing a lot of things differently we've just lost a couple of close ballgames and in this league that is going to happen sometimes. But it starts on defense and now we are starting to pick it up on offense too. Now all we have to do to get over the hump is put it all together, stay calm, and start making those key shots. There is always room for improvement, you cannot just say, 'hey we've won nineteen games' and be satisfied because that will get you nowhere. You've got to keep working to move up, at least that's the way I feel about it and knowing these guys they feel the same way. You cannot take a step back, you always have to take the next step forward and that's what I think we are going to do the rest of the season ... strive to win them all. We just have to keep playing hard and play with poise and composure and we will win more games."

Tre Kelly's solution is as simple as the rest. Keep the chemistry and continue to work hard and things will take care of themselves.

"I mean working hard together and being together on the court and away from the court is what it is all about," Trey began. "If we have no chemistry then we are going to lose. That's not the problem right now. Everybody here wants to win. That's what we do, me, Josh, Terrance, Kerbrell and all the guys, we hang out together all the time. That's important to us to build on what we have. That's what this team is all about. We push each other and we trust one another. Everything else will fall into place."

When asked, Michael Boynton, the Gamecocks' senior point guard is on the same page.

"I would definitely agree and I would have to say that this has been the most together-unit that I have been a part of since I've been here and umm, this being my senior year I have been through three different teams with three very destinctive personalities I would say," Boynton explained.

"This team is special," he continued. "This team is very much like a family. Guys do things off the court just like we do things on the court. When we leave here everyone doesn't go their seperate ways, we go out and eat together, we hang out on campus together and visit each others' rooms and we are always checking on each other and making sure everyone is doing the right things and working hard. We've gelled together. The time off the court we've spent together has helped us to get where we are and it will carry us to the next level, it will carry us past all of this because we have built a foundation of trust with each other."

Trust seems to be the key to the entire premise of good team chemistry, as Michael suggests.

"If you play with your best friend in the whole wide world you play with more confidence knowing that he is going to do his job because there are things that you know about him, and you trust him to get it done and it makes you work harder not to let your friend down too," Boynton says. "That makes it a whole lot more relaxing knowing that, so there is a whole lot less thinking you have to do when it comes to playing the game and it makes you play better ... it makes everyone play better knowing we are all thinking the same thing right now."

Carlos Powell is more philisophical.

"We've got to earn everything," Powell said with intensity and meaning. His face painted a picture of determination and resolve. "We are a team that plays hard and plays together and we just have to keep doing that. I think that is what we are going to do the remainder of the season. Our mission now is to win the rest of them one game at a time. We're more set on that now than ever. We're more determinded now than ever."

Ro Howell, another senior playing his final season as a Gamecock doesn't seemed worried with the recent close losses either.

"Team chemistry is good on this team," said Howell with conviction. "It's not just about togetherness though because we are a lot quicker and a lot more talented this year and that means a lot too. If we were playing just on emotion and chemistry right now I might be worried, but we have that and we have talent and skill too."

Howell illustrates further motivation for Boynton and he as well. "Listen, this is a do or die season for Mike and Me right now basically. I mean right now I'm a senior and I know this ... we are a family. I feel good about that. This has been a great senior season for me so far and I know it is going to be even greater because we are together, we are not going to quit. As long as the team wins we are happy but when we lose it only makes us work harder and push each other harder so that is what we are doing and will continue to do. We're not worried in the least. There is no stopping now. We've got to turn up the intensity three or four more notches and it is going to start Saturday night."

Dave Odom said it best after Wednesday night's loss at the hands of Mississippi State.

"As I told the team, and this is very very true. What they've done (this year) a lot of team can do but very few teams actually do it. You use these games, these stretches like this, to make you better. You do not let things like this hurt you. I will be sorely disappointed if we let this game or this stretch of games hurt us. But I know this team and I already know ... this team is not going to let this sort of short stretch hurt us, not at all."

Everyone is on the same page. Saturday night's rematch against Vanderbilt will tell the tale, but this team seems intent on regrouping and getting back on a winning track immediately. It is now the family mission.

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