One-on-One with Dave Odom

GamecockAnthem's Doug Jolley met with USC Basketball Coach Dave Odom in an exclusive one-on-one interview. Odom candidly talks about coming back in the face of opposition after a difficult season last year, the challenges of relating to today's players, why he feels he is the best coach at this time for USC, and what will make this year's team unique among the teams he has had at USC.

JOLLEY: It's the nature of the game that after a tough year last season for you guys that a lot of people called for your head and yet you chose to persevere and come back. Tell me about the fire in your belly, your competitiveness – why you wanted to come back.

ODOM: I didn't come back to prove anything. I've done what I've done, and that's not going to change. I didn't come back to prove people wrong or anything like that. That would be the furthest thing from my mind. I came back because my staff and I recruited this team, and I feel like we deserve the right to coach them.

Also, we made a commitment to our team – to every player – that we would come back; that we would do a better job coaching, and that we would supply everything they need to help them be the very best players and best team they could be. I believe deep down that we are the right coaching staff and I'm the right head coach for this particular team. This team was recruited with this year in mind.

(You and I) could have sat here a year ago talking about things. Some of the problems that we had could have been predicted. We had almost as many players laying out as we did players eligible to play. I could have gone a different route a year ago by recruiting freshman who would go in the place of a Devan Downey, or a Zam Fredrick or a Mike Jones, or whoever, and we'd have had more subs. But I chose to bite the bullet for a year to get to this year, and hope that this year would be the catalyst for years to come. And I think it will be, and I think it's the right decision.

JOLLEY: Society has gone through some massive changes during the time that you have been a coach. A lot of the kids that you coach and recruit today are growing up without fathers. You're not expected to be their dad, but you and your staff end up being some of the most influential male figures in their lives. Talk about how that aspect of it has changed in dealing with these kids.

ODOM: I think that today's responsibility as a head coach at any level has changed dramatically in a lot of ways, but one of the ways that it is very transparent is that you now are required to spend more time with your players off the court in various forms – mentorships, counseling sessions, sometimes relaxed social settings just to get to know them; find out what their needs are, try to find out what their past holds, and how you can best bring all of that under one umbrella, and deal with it, so that it relieves the personal pressures that they feel, which then allows them to become the best they can be as students and as basketball players.

I've always felt there are three areas that coaches need to be concerned with. Popular opinion is that academics are most important. It's not. The most important thing is the social, psychological, and physical maturation of the player. If they feel good about themselves, then they have the best chance to be academically successful, and then the best chance to be successful athletically. But you've got to deal with their personal needs first – their human needs.

Today's coach really spends more time off the court with his players than he does on the court, in most cases.

JOLLEY: How does that change recruiting for you? It used to be when you started recruiting, you went into a house and the dad was very often one of the strongest figures in the recruiting game. Now you walk into a lot of homes and there's no dad in the home.

ODOM: There are a lot of ways even that has changed. I remember when I first started recruiting back in my late twenties. I'd walk up and knock on the door. A mom or a dad would come to the door, and I would say, "Yes Maam" or "No Sir" to them. Now I go to the door, and they say, "Yes Sir, No Sir" to me. They've stayed the same age and I've gotten (older) – and that happens to all of us. However, when I go to a door today and a mom or a dad answer the door, I feel fortunate, because there is a home influence there. I think our best recruiting situations occur when there is a positive family influence, and what you try to do as a coach is to find out early on who makes the decisions, who is the most influential and why. We try to do that early on.

Years ago, in most cases, there was at least one strong parental influence at home. Today, on some occasions, there are none. You've got a mom and a dad somewhere. The recruit lives in the home part time, and quite often, in some cases, the kid lives in two or three homes – maybe two grandmothers and a part time mother, or a grandmother and father – they're all split up. It makes it very hard the first year and a half to bring some order to the kid's life where there has been none. So sometimes you worry more about scheduling their days and helping them become accountable – from class attendance, to being on time to practice, and working hard; to going to bed at a decent hour, and eating three meals a day. Those are things that most of us take for granted, but are foreign to many of today's student athletes.

JOLLEY: As a coach today, you've got a challenge with the hip hop generation and relating to them. How do you overcome that?

ODOM: Well, it's not something that I worry a great deal about in terms of, "Is that going to create a separation between me and my players?" I think they know that I care about them on a personal level. Still, I try to draw the line between what I believe what I believe is good and wholesome for them, and what they view as being entertainment. I'm not going to let myself go over to that. Not that I'm right and they're wrong. I know enough about the hip hop music to know that there really are two different kinds. There are some that put bad thoughts, bad deeds, bad actions – it celebrates those things in the minds of young people. And then there is some that has been cleaned up. It still has the same beat, the same music, and the same person singing different words to the same song. And I've been very clear with our team that they'll be none of that in our locker rooms. I can't control the dorms or cars or places like that, but where we all gather together – weight rooms, training rooms, locker rooms, buses, team travel, etc.

JOLLEY: Let me ask the same question a different way. In talking about the hip hop generation, talk about the different culture prevalent today, how relating to players is different from when you began recruiting in the ‘70's.

ODOM: Well, it still comes down to trust. With this hip hop culture, it does take you a little longer to get to know them and get them to trust you. It does take a little bit longer.

JOLLEY: Now for a change of pace, let's talk about this year's team. One analyst describes Devan Downey as potentially the fastest player who's ever played at South Carolina. You've got a lot of thoroughbreds on this team. How will you adapt the team's style of play to the players that you have?

ODOM: We certainly – to a man – have more speed, more quickness, and more athleticism than we've had since I've been here, across the board. Not only in the perceived starters, but depth wise. I mean we've got speed at virtually every position. The catalyst there and the leader there is certainly Devan, and I've always felt that the team plays at the pace of the point guard, basically. We had Tre' Kelley, for instance, for three years. He's a moderately paced guard. He's not a ‘blow it up the court' kind of guard every single time, and so our team kind of adjusted to Tre'.

I think, hopefully, our team will adjust to Devan. They'll have to pick up the pace because he does naturally take the ball and he runs it. So, our team is going to have to make a choice. They'll either let him run by himself and understand that by the time they get there, the ball will be shot. (Laughter) Or they'll run with him and be part of it. So, offensively, I'm hoping that they will adjust to him. Because I'm not going to have him pull back to them, I'm going to ask them to catch up to him. And we do have the ability to do that - in Mike Holmes, in Sam Muldrow and certainly Dominique Archie, Zam Fredrick, Brandis Raley-Ross. They all have the ability to run and play quick defensive pressure. There's no question that we'll be playing faster on offense, and I think that will be triggered by our activity defensively.

We'll go back to the days of the two NIT championships where we were pressing more and trapping more. But we didn't do that last year because we didn't have depth, and we didn't have as much speed and quickness.

JOLLEY: Do you realistically anticipate that this team can challenge for an NCAA berth?

ODOM: Yes. Certainly, I do. I think the league is going to be very strong again, and in order to do that, we're going to have to play at the level of the leaders in the league, whoever it happens to be. When you look across the length and breadth of both divisions, they're both strong. But our team, I think will be surprisingly good. We have depth where we had none last year. We have ability to shoot the ball where we shot it sporadically last year. Defensively, we're going to be stronger, and I think we'll rebound the ball better. And we've got, I think, as good a combination of experience and youth as any team in our league.

When people look at our team, they'll say that we've got four new starters – we will, basically – and they'll say, ‘You're an inexperienced team.' No. We're a new team with> experience. In Devan, we've got a year's experience at a high level in Cincinnati. In Zam, we've got two years of experience at a high level at Georgia Tech. In Branden Conrad we've got a couple of years from Navy. So we've got some Division I experience, albeit not game experience here at South Carolina. But the advantage there is that they've been in our system for a year, so they know it. The only thing we've got to do is get them used to playing in front of a South Carolina crowd. So, we're going to be okay there.

JOLLEY: How much improved is Chad Gray this year?

ODOM: I think he's improved. I think he'll be more comfortable. But Chad is going to be challenged for playing time with these young guys. Mike Holmes is an exceptional athlete. He's a very good basketball player. Sam Muldrow has really good presence on the court. He blocks shots, he handles the ball, he can shoot it, and he can score. And the guy that I think has really surprised people is Austin Steed. He's playing much better than I dreamt he could be at this time. He's done very well. And Mitchell Carter's improved. So Chad, though he has improved, he still – he's going to be challenged by these younger players.

JOLLEY: Which freshmen do you expect to have an impact this year?

ODOM: I think all three of those that I named, and in no particular order, Muldrow, Holmes and Steed – all are going to play. If you asked me to throw up the top eight or nine, they'd be in it.

JOLLEY: Do you have a feel for who will be in your starting lineup yet?

ODOM: Certainly I do. I wouldn't want to (name them today); it would be subject to change. Downey is likely to be an announced starter, so would Archie, and you'd think Fredrick would, but Raley's back for another year, and he's better, so there's a lot of decisions still to be made.

JOLLEY: Any chance you'll use much of a 3-guard rotation?

ODOM: Probably not. Often, on occasion, I think so, but my wish would be to really get bigger out there, not smaller. We've got a bit of a log-jam in the post, and so I'd like to get Archie out of that mix if I could, and push him out to three to a small forward and make us bigger out there, which would help us with our rebounding, which we had trouble with last year. You get bigger there and get a better rebounder to small forward, and then you'd have your post guys in there to battle for rebounds.

JOLLEY: Will the depth create any problem for the normal steady rotation of players?

ODOM: Well, I've just got to do a better job myself of getting fresh players on the court. My history has always been determining who my best players are and keep them on the court. I've had a reluctance to (switch) – Tre Kelly played 38 plus minutes, and Wallace 37 plus minutes, and I just don't take them out. Last year, we didn't have anybody to take them out with.

Downey is going to want to play as many minutes as he can, but I've got to make myself rest him. I've got to make myself rest Archie. I've got to make myself rest these other guys. Because it'll do two things. One, it'll keep them rested and fresh throughout the course of the season, but it'll create a rotation and a sense of ownership for our reserves. And so, it's important that I convince all of our team that a shared responsibility is better than a primary or personal responsibility.

JOLLEY: How good should the team be on the defensive end of the floor this year?

ODOM: The speed and quickness combined with our added strength and size inside should propel our team to be a very, very good defensive team. Whereas last year we were just okay. Again, we've got more speed, more quickness, and then of course the strength of a Holmes and a Gray and a Carter, and in the shot-blocking of a Steed and a Muldrow I think gives you a better chance to be a better defensive team. As much as I like Devan Downey as an offensive player, I really think he's as probably good defensively as he offensively. He's very good defensively now. Raley is improved too. He actually guards Devan better than anybody.

The USC season begins November 5th with a home game against Guilford College. The USC annual basketball preview luncheon and GamecockAnthem will be there to bring you interviews with the coaches and players.

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