Life Without Ro - The Gamecocks Are Ready

The University of South Carolina Gamecocks suffered a blow to their game Saturday night against Georgia when Rolando Howell went down early in the second half. Howell, who had been surging lately with his timely inside play, has suffered a fractured left wrist. Preliminary reports are that Ro's injury ...

... is serious enough to end his season and that his Gamecock playing days are over - a disappointing end to the former McDonald's All-American's career. South Carolina's Dave Odom, or a representative of the program, plans to hold a press conference today at 5:00 PM to announce the future of Howell's playing status or possibly lack thereof.

Coach Odom's early comments clearly illustrated his immediate train-of-thought with regard to who might be called upon to 'step up' in Howell's absence.

"I mean how about John Chappell (Junior 6-10, 240)," Odom stated in his post game press conference. "I mean who, other than anybody that was a Bulldog or a fan of Georgia's, could not be happy for John Chappell? I mean who has worked harder? Who deserves it more? Who has played less? Who has gotten less attention and credit? And who stood up bigger at a time when we needed it most than John Chappell? So I feel good for him. I am so pleased and I can tell you that everybody in our locker room is pleased for him as well."

Chappell is the son of Len Chappell, Wake Forest (1960-1962), who was a two-time first-team All-America selection in 1961 and 1962 ... the first consensus All-American in Wake Forest basketball history in 1962.

Then the talked turned to the loss hidden within the win.

"Rolando ... his situation is probably not good," continued Odom. "The early report is that it is not good. Left wrist ... and until we get another report - not good. I'm usually optimistic on things but the early reports are it is not good."

Odom's mind quickly switched gears to the immediate and realistic challenge ahead.

"We will play on. Kentucky comes in here Wednesday ... and we will play on. It's senior night."

Insider' Sunday estimates speculate that Howell may have surgery to place pins in his wrist as early as Tuesday. There is some thought that after surgery, and given a couple of weeks of rest, Howell could be fitted with a special cast and allowed to play in any post season tournament the Gamecocks are likely to be involved in AFTER the SEC tournament. A definitive answer should come sometime Sunday afternoon, but no one is expecting good news. Most insiders believe Ro's season is over - everyone is waiting on the final word. In the meantime the Gamecocks must prepare for life without Ro.

"We played with Kerbrell (Brown) there right away, then Carlos (Powell)," Odom remarked about his compensations during the game following the injury - then he seemed to look for possible solutions to the future issue.

"Renaldo will have to step up ... and Wallace (speaking of freshman Brandon Wallace.) And Chappell ... when one door closes the other one opens. I mean he was ready. He always comes to practice and works hard. I mean it is difficult for someone to stay ready because for someone that doesn't play much, these games are a day off. It is tough for them to stay in game shape because they are sitting around on game days. But John was ready. I cannot say enough about how he works."

Coach Odom contemplated the possibilities out-loud.

"I'll have to think some about it but my initial reaction is that if we need finesse, if we need ball handling, if we need shooting ... you go with Wallace. If you need strength, if you need muscle, then you go with John. It's not the first time we've been without Ro. Now ... it's the first time we've been without him playing this type of schedule, so we revert back to that, what we did then, and John gets rotated back into the lineup. The other possibility might be Renaldo (Balkman), getting him back inside some. I just don't know right now."

The venerable coach continued after a pause, his eyes drifting to the upper left as if trying to completely grasp the situation and find an answer - referencing that distant thought process in his basketball brain. His mouth tightend showing disappointment, his eyes expressing a mix of hope and confidence. The coach - a competitor.

"We played the first half of the season without Ro ... but he is not out yet, not for sure. Not yet. We'll just have to wait and see. I will miss his defense. I will miss his rebounding. I will miss his toughness and experience and his leadership."

Leaning back in his chair, the back resting against the wall in the players' locker room, his hands grasping the front of the seat between his legs and his feet planted on the lower crossbar, Odom concluded, "We're not going to give up on Ro yet. Not yet. Let's just wait and see. We'll see. We'll see." Odom looked straight ahead, he was ready to move on.

John Chappell was cool, calm and collective in the post game interview. His voice low and slow, his demeanor resolute and sure but at the same time humble and unassuming.

"I wasn't expecting to come into the game," started Chappell. "But when Ro went down I kind of expected they were going to need me because of the physicality of the game. I was just trying to be a physical presence in there no matter what else I did."

And a physical presence he was, knocking down four quick points going 2 of 3 with three rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal in just over nine minutes of play.

"I felt I could get in there and bang with the guys. I put on a lot of weight during the year so if anything, I felt that the team needed me to get in there and bang away and give them some big body support that way. I knew they needed me and were depending on me."

John clearly realizes that his role on the team has just been compounded and magnified.

"If it comes down to me, I am definitely ready," Chappell said with confidence and resolve. " I've been working hard all year. No one expected Ro to be gone but things happen. That's why you keep working and keep in shape and keep giving it your all in practices. You never know when something like this is going to happen and Coach is going to look down the bench and call your number. It may be your one shot - you had better be ready. I'm going to do my best to pick up where he (Ro) left off if that is what it comes down to. The team is depending on me."

The fans did too. Chappell got a standing ovation while the crowd chanted his name as he was playing and later leaving the court.

"The fans helped me a lot. I could hear them in the stands chanting 'Chappell - Chappell' ... I heard it," John reflected with a smile. "It would be hard not to hear that. The fan support really helps me out. I definitely hear them."

Josh Gonner added an extra air of resolve given the current situation in his post game spoken words (not to mention his second half performance after Howell went down) - including praise for Chappell whom the team affectionately refers to as 'Chap.'

"I mean we know that whoever it is on this team they are going to step in there and give it all they've got. That's what Chap did, he came in and he gave it all he's got and that's what he is supposed to do."

Gonner shoots from the hip, and in doing so comes straight at you from his heart. His left eye narrows slightly, the right tip of his mouth curls upward in a knowing smile of inner doubtlessness.

"We're all like that on this team because we know someone there standing beside us is depending on us, and we cannot let each other down. Ro's just one player, he's not the whole team and he knows that. He is probably cheering for Chap or whoever replaces him, if that's what happens, more than anyone else. That's what this team is all about so while we are glad Chap did so well, and we needed that, we also expect it from each other."

And on the potential loss of Ro, at least for the next six or seven games? Gonner was sure and determined.

"We played without Ro for what, fifteen games? Fourteen games? I mean Ro is a big part of our game but we can do it. We can handle it. I know this team. We can do it."

Official news will be released later Sunday afternoon. In the meantime the Gamecocks are prepared for life without Ro if it works out to be a necessity. No one is calling it quits.

- Rooster Perry

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