Speaking with Carlos Powell, Kerbrell Brown and Michael Boynton since their return home from Atlanta ... I am immediately impressed with one thing in particular. They trust Dave Odom with all their hearts, to lead them in the right direction. They are not in awe of their current situation. They are not egotistical or overwhelmed or even the slightest bit big-headed. They are simply secure in the fact that as long as they put their complete trust in Dave Odom, everything will work out for the best. I listened to them talk among themselves as well, and suffice it to say that they look upon their coach as their guide. They are leaving it all up to him to orchestrate their chances at immediate future success.
I do not want to oversimplify this observation nor do I want to over-complicate it - but it is clear that they have completely bought into Coach Odom's plan. I spoke with others on the team as well and all are the same - but the reason I mentioned the three above is because two of them are seniors.
What all of this means IMHO is that, based upon what I am hearing and what I have seen in the faces of these basketball players - is a quiet confidence that they weathered the storm and are back on track, capable and ready once again to play up to their potential. The sudden loss of Ro Howell combined with the increased difficulty of the schedule they were in the midst of at the time no doubt shook their confidence. They could have fallen apart - which would have been disasterous in the SEC Tournament. But they put their faith in their head coach and he came through for them. Now, once again as in most cases where a crisis has been weathered - they have emerged stronger for their experience, that is clear. You never know how any particular game is going to play-out, but you have to like the Gamecocks' chances against Memphis.
Speaking of Memphis I have been receiving a lot of calls and emails about the Gamecocks' first round opponent this Friday. Having been born in Memphis and having spent several years of my adult life their, in addition to my Dad being a Memphis letterman ... the calls have all been about my take on the game from friends and media around the country. The first thing I should write is that I do not completely agree with Jeremy's "Ironically It Is Memphis" column although I do see where he was coming from. Memphis fans suffer to a great extent the same insecurties that we Gamecock fans sometimes suffer, only Memphis fans do seem to revel in their misery at times more than most. Their one ray of hope has always been their basketball teams. However, their fans for the most part are pretty decent people. With that said their basketball team is more than just 'pretty decent.' They are probably, and I have had this confirmed without prompting by more than one media friend in the past couple of days, the most underrated (in terms of seeding) teams in this tournament. In other words they could easily have been named a 4 or 5 seed and no one would have complained. They are that good. For those that say they are a two man team - think again. John Calipari has recruited well in the past few years and Memphis is truly one of the nation's hotbeds of basketball talent. In that city Memphis does not recruit - they choose. Keep that in mind when reading that they are a two man team. And remember, it was a complete unknown off of the Memphis bench that beat the Gamecocks two years ago in the NIT.
Coach Odom is well aware of Memphis' depth and talent. We will have more on the position match-ups later in the week including input from some first hand Memphis talking heads - but suffice it to say that in order to defeat Memphis, South Carolina will have to be at the top of their game Friday morning. Memphis has all of the advantages in their favor right now, not the least of which is that they are closer to their home in Kansas City than we are ours - and Memphis sees action in some sort of tournament every season. They have the experience edge in these situations. This will all be second nature, old hat, to them. How our Gamecocks react to the intense media attention they are about to receive when they arrive in Kansas City is going to be key. Coach Odom says the same 50 or so teams go to the Big Dance every year ... the other 15 slots rotate. And the key to winning is going every year. However, I do like what I am seeing on the faces, and hearing in the tones of voices, of our basketball players right now. They are fairly grounded at the moment - we'll see how they do when the bright lights hit them around Thursday.
Finally with regard to this basketball team of ours, is something else about Coach Odom. Sunday night in the Frank McGuire room of the practice facility I commented to Coach Odom in the form of a question, "You seem to be very proud of this basketball team?"
You had to be there. Coach Odom is a down to earth guy - the kind of person you would want as a friend even if he were not the head basketball coach at your favorite university. He is simply a very nice guy. What you see is what you get with him unlike a lot of the people we run across in this business these days. Anyway, the main stream press has a nickname for Dave. They call him, "Filibuster Dave Odom" because he comes to the podium and talks a lot before allowing questions from the media. Some see his opening monologues as tedious and long-winded. Me personally, I listen intently, watching the expressions on his face, enthralled with his honesty and openess. He tells it like it is and he shares what it on his mind with you hoping his exact thoughts will be shared with the fans in the process ... because afterall, that is why we are here. To act as the conduit to the fans.
Anyway, after watching Coach speak about his team for awhile, I could not help but notice that unlike in past seasons, when Dave speaks of this team he clearly transmits an extreme sense of well-being and pride. A milestone has been passed.
With that I asked/commented on his obvious feelings for this team and he took a long pause, grabbing both sides of the top-sides of the podium, moving his feet back a few inches and relaxing while leaning forward - his head down for a second. He wanted to make sure I understood.
Then he looked up. "Yeah ... yeah, I do have a lot of pride in this team," he said. Then he looked to the back of the room where no one was standing. He was accessing something deep in his mind.
"This team is very special," he continued. He shook his head side-to-side just a little in some unbelieving fashion as if to reassure himself that he was living such good fortune. Then he added slowly, but this time shaking his head in the affirmative, up-and-down, as if just realizing something for the first time, "This will always be one of my favorites. I would have to say this is one of my best groups ever. I really like this group of young men."
Now, back to the players for just a moment. Boynton, Brown and Powell were sitting directly in front of me and they had, all three, watched Coach Odom's answer as intently as I. When Dave finished, all three looked at me at the same time and smiled. They are proud too. Not just proud of their overachievements this season - but to me it seems they are most proud of what they have as a team - in a family sort of way. They love Dave Odom literally. And he loves them.
I share this with you because this sort of chemistry is rare these days IMHO. You do not see it often - at least I know I do not and I watch for it everyday in everything I see and do. Teamwork is everything in everything be it business or family or sports or church. You name it. Success is measured by teamwork. This basketball team Dave Odom put together this year has what it takes obviously ... but I have never seen it more graphically illustrated than in the faces of the Coach and his players Sunday night. They believe in one another and trust one another beyond words. They have a bond, and for that reason I am saying they may lose Friday, who knows. But whatever they do they will do it as a team and that makes them very very dangerous to any opponent they face.
One last note about the tournament and the bracket the Gamecock have found themselves part of this weekend. I've spoken with various radio, internet and newspaper friends all over the country in the past 30 hours or so and all seem to agree that South Carolina is in arguably the toughest bracket in the country. Memphis, most say, is not seeded high enough. And Oklahoma State is being picked by more than a few to win it all. Should the Gamecocks upset Memphis, it is all but a given that OSU would be their second round opponent. With that understood this would be a good opportunity for the young players that will be returning next season to gain some valuable experience playing basketball in the Big Dance. I am not writing their chances off - but I am saying best case scenario right now is probably an upset win against Memphis and a strong and gallant showing against OSU. With that they could walk away with the realistic goal of coming back next year and taking it to the next level based upon the young talent Coach Odom has from this year's squad returning next year.
Oh, and one more thing. Coach Odom made the comment the other day that his, "... recruiting classes are never ranked in the Top 25, yet I do pretty well with what I sign."
Coach Odom obviously has a couple of players already in mind that he believes he is going to sign this year. You can bet they are players that he believes will contribute and add to the returning talent in a very positive fashion. Another point guard that can shoot ... and a big man. We think we know who they are. Soon we should be able to share that with you so stay tuned.
Speaking of teams, Ray Tanner has one. Again, realizing and accepting my bias where the Gamecocks are concerned, from time to time I have come to rely on the opinions of others to either support or discredit my observations in general conversation. From what I have seen so far Ray has maybe the best baseball team at Carolina in the past thirty years. He has the complete package. Pitching, hitting, defense, baserunners and a very capable coaching staff obviously.
What Ray also has is a determined group of competitors that have absorbed their coach's intensity and will to win. In terms of sheer talent they are probably the fourth or fifth best team in the country right now. Rice, Texas and Stanford have more talent on paper at least. South Carolina's talent is on even par, maybe even slightly better, than LSU's this season - for maybe the first time since SC joined the conference. However, it is the mindset of this year's Gamecock squad that may set them apart as this season progresses. We'll see - starting this weekend.
LSU is going to tell us a lot about this baseball team. This coming weekend will pit two teams, both ranked in the Top 5, against one another at Sarge Frye Field. The Gamecocks may have been looking ahead to the LSU series this weekend, even with Ray warning them and working to make sure they stayed focused and are taking these non-conference games 'one game at a time'. Let's hope they do not drop their guard against Davidson tonight. They will be going a little deeper into their rotation than normal saving their aces for the weekend series against the Bayou Bengals. In other words, the SEC season really begins tonight as the rotation and game preparation will be geared toward getting SEC action underway on Friday. If the rain holds-out tonight, stop by The Sarge for an inning or two.
The football coaches have been in meetings in earnest since their return from Spring Break. For example, Monday morning they went into strategy and planning meetings just after breakfast. A few of them actually ate breakfast together. They broke for lunch just before noon and then were back in meetings by 1:30 and contiued to work together in closed sessions until well into the evening.
Right now they are deciding upon potential position changes, there are few, as well as a preliminary early starting lineup. Or shall we say, preliminary depth chart consisting of those whom they feel they will need to depend upon this coming season to contribute the most snaps at any given position.
Some of the names you might see on the early depth chart are not all are names you might expect. Instead, expect some new names to rise to the top as the coaches thrust underclassmen into roles of responsibility now, during the spring, in an effort to prepare them for the summer and the new season. At the same time remember, spring is not for making definitive decisions about the summer. Spring is for feeling the new team out - seeing who might step it up a notch or two in late July and early August.
From what I gathered late Monday you should expect a lot from Web Brown on the offensive line for instance. And De'Adrian Coley and Ryan Brown at linebacker. Also, Taquiy Muhammad is definitely going to be a cornerback this season and they believe he can be a good one. Andy Boyd's knee is still a little tender but he is expected to participate in Spring Drills - maybe not full contact on Day One but soon afterwards.
Newcomer Jonathan Joseph is going to be tested early. He will receive special attention and personal coaching by Ron Cooper. Joseph has a lot to learn but he has impressed the coaches so far with his natural ability and his work ethic during the winter.
I'll write this again just so you know and it is clear. Take this as the gospel. The coaches have 100% faith in Dondrial Pinkins to get the job done this year. Blake Mitchell is going to get plenty of snaps and you can expect to see a lot of him over the next four years beginning now - but Pinkins is the clear #1 heading into spring. Syvelle Newton will get a few snaps, but he will be a wide receiver first and foremost.
Charles Silas will go both ways - defensive tackle and defensive end. Chris Tucker may be moved back over the offensive line eventually. That is a decision that will probably be made later in the week. There are some depth concerns on the offensive line right now but those concerns will be answered once Kris Mick returns this summer. Still no final work on Chad Walker's knee - all I am being told is that he is working hard to rehab the knee and get back on the field. It is not going to happen in time for spring, that is for sure. Also, Brandon Schweitzer is going to be moved around until they find a place where he is comfortable and can contribute this season. He is a fine athlete, very strong, with a good work ethic and all the tools to earn a spot on the depth chart ... somewhere. Finding the right place that best suits his abilities is paramount to the staff right now. They want him on the field doing something somewhere. Exactly where will be determinded during the course of the spring drills.
Do not underestimate Brian Brownlee's potential as a tight end during his senior season.
Hope to see you in the chat tonight. By the end of the day today I will have a lot of new information for you.