Odom optimistic about young talent

The Gamecocks held their pre-season basketball luncheon Thursday, as Coach Dave Odom's squad is preparing to start the 2007-2008 season. This year's team will look much different than a year ago, so Odom had much to talk about. Read inside for a full report from Thursday's basketball luncheon, where Odom described what the new players bring to the court, addressed the team's goals, and much more.

The most important thing Odom had to say was also one of the very last things he brought up. After speaking for more than 25 minutes, Odom finally addressed the issue that is foremost in most fans' minds.

"Can we play in post-season?" Odom asked himself. "Yes, and I expect us to."

If Carolina is to get back to the post-season after last year's disappointing campaign, Odom will have to find a way to replace his three leading scorers, a group that included All-SEC point guard Tre Kelley, his leading rebounder Brandon Wallace, and his best perimeter defender Bryce Sheldon. Hoping to fill the void will be seven newcomers, three transfers and four freshmen.

"You say we've got a new team, and we've got a lot of inexperience," said Odom. "I would take exception to that. We do have a new team, but we do return experience, albeit experience at another institution."

That experience includes point guard Devan Downey and his Freshman All-Big East campaign two years ago at Cincinnati, and guard Zam Fredrick's two years at Georgia Tech. The 5'9" Downey will have big shoes to fill in replacing Kelly, but Odom says, "If you lose a point guard the caliber of Tre Kelley, you want Devan Downey to take his place."

Downey will bring a different type of play to the court. He is lightning fast and likes to push the tempo on offense and defense. Odom joked that he expects to have plenty of battles with Downey over the tempo, but he has no intention of forcing Downey to walk the ball up the court on every possession.

"The point guard, in most cases, controls the tempo of the game," he explained. "In Tre Kelley we had a guard that is a medium paced guard. He's not one of those guys that just racehorses the ball up the court. For the most part it worked out well for us. When you look at this year, and you look at a Devan Downey... then I would say this to the remainder of our team: ‘You better get in gear or else the ball will be shot before you get down there.' He is geared to transporting the ball at a high rate of speed, which will pick up the pace of our team both offensively and defensively. I'm going to allow him some liberties that I haven't allowed others. I think he's capable of handling it."

Downey's speed, combined with the increased depth on this year's squad, should enable the Gamecocks to return to the trapping defense they played during most of Odom's tenure in Columbia. Kelley was not ideally suited to the trapping, and with only a seven man rotation, the Gamecocks could not expend the energy required to play a pressure defense.

"We now have speed at every spot," said Odom. "We have quickness at every spot. We have more size at every spot. We certainly are much stronger and in much better physical condition than we were as this time last year. I really believe that a lot of the speed offensively will be spurred by the way we play defense."

The key to the depth may be the talent at point guard. Last season there was only one point guard on the roster. This year, there are so many talented guards that Odom may choose to redshirt Trevor Deloach, a highly touted freshman. Fredrick is a self-described combo guard who played both guard positions at Georgia Tech, and should be able to spell Downey in a pinch. The third, and forgotten, transfer, Branden Conrad, also figures to get significant minutes at the point.

"I do believe that Branden Conrad is going to be able to go in and run our team without too much difficulty and with a fair measure of effectiveness," Odom said.

The other three freshmen will be expected to provide major contributions, and Odom is already applying the pressure, saying they are the best group since Kelley, Wallace and Renaldo Balkman, the latter two both in the NBA.

"We have three freshmen who are athletically talented enough to play at a high level in the SEC and win," he said. "We have three freshmen who are not afraid at this point. They are not afraid to win, and they are not afraid to lose. They will lay it out there every single day. They have been well coached in high school, and they come in with the passion to succeed at the university. I expect each one of those three to play regularly, and possibly even start."

Somewhat forgotten heading into the season is the lone returning starter, Dominique Archie. Archie is the leading returning scorer and rebounder. He played power forward last year, but this year Odom plans to move Archie to his more natural small forward position.

"I don't mind telling you that I will make every effort I can to move him to the perimeter 70-75 percent of the time," said Odom. "If I don't do it, we're going to have a real logjam in the post. We did not rebound the ball well on the wings last year, and I know he can do that. He can give us size on the wings. I know he is a good defender and he will work hard. I also know at this point he is one of our best two or three leaders on the team. He has grown up as a person and a basketball player. I am very proud of him. He is easily our best athlete. I think he is the best open shooter we have on our team."

Shortly before meeting with the media, Odom met with the players. He talked to the players about what he expects of them, and the goals the team has for this season. He concluded with an important message, which he shared with the media.

"I told our team this morning in closing that only when their pain for losing matches my pain for losing will we turn this team and this program into the direction and reach the status that it deserves," he said. "I really truly believe that. That may be the biggest problem with our team this year. We have so many new guys, that they would have trouble understanding the pain that we have been through last year and have felt for so long."

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