The results are a South Carolina team that is 12-9 overall and 2-6 in conference play. This team started the season going 10-3 in the season's opening non-conference schedule, but continues to disappoint USC fans following another close 64-61 loss to Alabama, a team they led the majority of the game.
In a rebuilding season, 8-8 or 6-10 in the conference would have been respectable with the loss of last year's key players and the speculation of the 2007-2008 season full of talented newcomers, including previous NCAA starting experience in Devan Downey and Zam Fredrick.
But the season is becoming more than a rebuilding year, it is becoming an exciting disaster.
Execution and effort is the real Achilles heel for this team. While Tre' Kelley has performed as a warrior, his lead by example mentality has fallen on deaf ears. More often than not, open players have found themselves unprepared to take open shots both on the perimeter, and on the rare occasions down below the block or in the paint, often hesitating and allowing the defense to recover and collapse. At the major college level of basketball, all players know to go strong to the basket, something that unless the shot is uncontested, appears to be a foreign concept to this year's team.
While the current talent condition of the team rests on the shoulders of Coach Dave Odom and his recruiting strategies, the level of effort given on the floor is a matter of player performance and commitment.
Coaches can identify talent, potential, speed, strength, scoring skills, rebounding ability etc. Coaches can teach and develop shooting technique, rebounding fundamentals, footwork, defensive positioning, transition, floor spacing, passing lanes and angles. The men in suits sitting on the sidelines can even teach clock management, ball control and mismatch creation. Coaches have the responsibility to motivate, but they can not teach, develop nor manufacture "heart", a term used frequently in sports to acknowledge or describe a player's level of effort and commitment to performance.
The characteristics of heart are hustling on each play, jumping off the floor in all cases when the opportunity to rebound exists, diving on the floor for loose balls (not peeking and reaching), making the extra step to turn a driving or flashing ball handler, rotating while the ball is in flight on defense, not watching to see the outcome of the ball in flight.
After three consecutive conference losses, South Carolina has seen the coaching staff make the necessary lineup and player rotation adjustments. In conjunction with the consistent play of Kelley, this has given the team an opportunity to win in each of the last 5 games. Each loss can be attributed to poor player execution, lack of effort, too many unforced turnovers and lack of aggressiveness. Is this team a SEC championship caliber team? No. But this team has college athletes that can shoot, run, jump and dribble. Each game is played with a collection of similar student athletes who are also prone to mistakes, off shooting days, fatigue and nagging injuries. The differences in these clubs are players providing more effort for their school, the fans, their families, the coaching staff and themselves.
It is time for the players to review game film and conduct a self introspection of their performances, or lack thereof, and make a commitment first to themselves, then to the fans who support, the school that has provided opportunity, the coaches that have made the risk of their recruiting selection, and their families who have labored and inconvenienced themselves to support them through the years to date.
When a game is lost because you were outplayed after you have given your best effort, then it's a bitter but acceptable result. But when a victory is missed because players just refuse to exert themselves, omit rebounding, trout instead of run, watch rather than react, then you have to believe they are the wrong players to have representing such a fine institution. While this team has a deficiency in talent, the biggest deficiency is mental.
The SEC is full of under-skilled players who are making very effective contributions to their respective ball clubs. This should not be any different for the Garnet and Black. It's time for the players to become accountable for their own actions, and in turn rediscover their winning ways.
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