Odom Excited about USC's Chances This Year
After back-to-back NIT National Championships, Odom made it clear that he not only understood fan expectations for an NCAA tournament team, but that he and his team had the same expectations. "Our team is capable of making the NCAA tournament and winning the SEC Championship. I am not predicting it. I am committed to the best that Gamecock basketball can offer. The NCAA? I told our players, that ship is sailing, they better get on it. I'm going to be terribly disappointed if we don't make it (to the NCAA Tournament)."
Odom was visibly exuberant when he said, "I told (USC Athletic Director) Eric Hyman that I'm scared. He asked why. I told him I like this team. I normally don't like them this time of year."
Last year South Carolina swept a pair of games from eventual NCAA champion Florida, and came within three points of beating them in the SEC championship game. Odom expects Florida to be ranked #1 in the country, as the Gators return all of their key players from the championship team a year ago. Odom says he expects USC to be able to play with the Gators, as well as the best teams in the country.
He better, because the Gamecocks schedule this year has them playing some of the nation's marquee teams. They travel in November to take on Southern Cal, as well as UC-Irvine. In addition to playing improved in-state rival Clemson in December, they will travel to Baylor and play Princeton at home before the holidays. Kansas will come to the Colonial Center in Columbia for a January 7 tilt before the Gamecocks begin SEC conference play, where they will once again face some of the best competition nationally. LSU also made the Final Four in 2006, and the Bayou Bengals return many of their best players as well. Odom expects Alabama to be very good this year, and said that Georgia will be the most improved team in the conference. Odom said, "I enjoy playing national opponents. You can't have a national flavor if you don't play them. You can't be recognized nationally if you don't play a national schedule."
Odom said he has always felt that with three high level players returning, a team has a good chance. USC returns two, Tre Kelly and Brandon Wallace. South Carolina will be faced with replacing the third player they unexpectedly lost to a first round NBA draft pick, Renaldo Balkman, who brought fire to the team in their late season run.
The prognostication magazines are grim this year in their predictions for USC doing that, but Odom smiles when he says, "They don't know what I know. And I know about Archie." He is referring to Dominique Archie, the redshirt freshman who will be called upon to replace much of Balkman's rebounding and point contributions this season. Odom stated that he feels Archie can be the player that Carolina needs to provide what they lost when Balkman left, though he didn't expect him to do everything that Balkman did. "We can't replace Renaldo's personality, but we have to replace his other contributions." Odom said.
Kelly will be the player USC relies on most for leadership this season. He is expected to be one of the best point guards in the conference this year. Kelly has a realistic chance to become USC's all-time assist leader this year. "I think I have to run my team the best way I can." Kelly said. "I've got to show that I can run the team a little bit better than I have the past couple of years. I'm a point guard who has the potential to lead his team to the NCAA's. If I'm here, I think we can make it."
Wallace, will be counted on to have a more dominant presence on the court. Wallace is known for his slim physique, but has been unable to significantly increase his weight. He said he has added seven pounds, but adds, "It's more mental I think. Just planning what you have to do, and I'm more experienced, so I know how to handle myself." Wallace feels he's up to the challenge: "I have a more aggressive game. Just being more aggressive and blocking shots. All summer I‘ve been working on my shooting and all-around game and continuing the things we worked on last year. I got the most improved player award two years in a row, so I guess that's a good thing."
The fourth player Odom talked the most about was Dwayne Day. The coach said that Day had been "under my skin for 2 years," stating that Day had shown the potential to be a great player, but his performance on the court had fallen short of that potential thus far. Odom said, "I wasn't excited at the beginning of summer about Day." He then stated that Day was by far the most improved player by the end of the summer, and he compared Day to Tarence Kinsey, who graduated this past spring. Kinsey's first two years at Carolina were mediocre, but the last two years Kinsey led the team in scoring and leadership. Kinsey appears to have made the roster with the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, something few thought would have happened two years ago. Odom expects a similar transformation in Day. Wallace said of Day, "He's probably a better shooter than he ever was before."
USC suffered at the five spot last season, and Odom is hoping that junior Ousmane Konate will also begin fulfilling the role he is capable of at center. Konate played sparingly last season, dealing with injuries and weight issues. "Konate was at 292 pounds," Odom said, "and we asked him to get down to 265 pounds, and he has. He has had a good fall and is in better shape. True freshman center Mitchell Carter will be called on to also provide minutes in the paint. Carter has the size, but Odom was frank in stating that he would have to mature some to make significant contributions this year.
The final player expected to be a starter is Bryce Sheldon. Used primarily off the bench as a scorer last season, Sheldon will be called upon to have a more complete game this year. Odom said, "Sheldon is quicker. I don't want a specialist."
"I think we can compete at the same level and get into the NCAAs." Wallace said. "It's going to take a lot of experience. We've got a lot of young guys, but they're young guys with talent."
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