Odom, numbers call for honoring Kelley

The scoreboard said Carolina had just dropped a 10-point decision to No. 19 Vanderbilt in overtime. Numerically, USC had lost. However, the 6,000 or so fans who stuck out the game and waited to the end still cheered, yelled and clapped as Tre' Kelley acknowledged the crowd on his way off the Colonial Center floor.

"I'm just so appreciative for the way the fans responded to him when he came off the court," Odom said. "That was heartfelt by him, and me, and the rest of the team. I appreciate that greatly."

But for Kelley, on his final home game, that wasn't nearly enough.

"To come out tonight, I just wanted to win this basketball game no matter what, no matter how I played," Kelley said. "I just wanted our team to go out and win this basketball game against a top 25 team. And we definitely had a chance. It took a lot for us to come back and take that game into overtime."

Quietly going about his business, Kelley became the second leading scorer in the SEC, averaging just under 20 points per game. His string of games with 20 points or more (which currently stands at 6 of the last 7) is one of the top streaks in the league this season.

But despite all that he has done for Carolina, attention isn't always on the good Kelley has done but rather the team record, which currently sits at 14-14.

"If I can help my team win some more games then maybe they will respect me," Kelley said. "Whatever media-wise or other people think it really doesn't matter because I think I get enough respect from the guys who are playing against me. Those are the guys who notice it more."

But it was Carolina coach Dave Odom who made it perfectly clear that the team record and Kelley's performance should not have correlation on how voters cast their ballots for SEC Player of the Year.

"Unless there's a different definition of player of the year," Odom said. "He is player of the year in this league. Period. No conversation."

Odom, who recruited Kelley out of high school in inner-city Washington, D.C., believes his point guard is not only the best leader in the conference, but the best player overall in the league. Sitting at the podium following Wednesday night's game, Odom let his feelings be known on a player he has come to love.

"I appreciate him for all the right reasons. He's a remarkable young man who has a remarkable game," Odom said. "And I will tell you if he's not player of the year in this conference, shame on the people that vote if he's not player of the year in this league. I don't care who hears me say it. I mean come on now."

Kelley, who dished out his 500th assist during the game for third all-time at USC, isn't worried about the awards that could come to him soon, but about what he can do to make his team better as the season draws to a close.

"On the note that I left (the court), as far as us losing the game, I think it took a lot out of me emotionally. Of course physically because we played a lot of minutes, but more out of me emotionally cause I just knew we were in that basketball game," Kelley said. "Physically I'm going to take a little hit, but tonight it took a lot out of my heart because I just knew we won that game, and I wanted to win my last game on that court out there."

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