Odom promises up-tempo brand of basketball
The biggest change for the Gamecocks is at point guard, where Carolina must replace All-SEC performer Tre' Kelley. Fortunately, Kelley's replacement is Devan Downey, probably the best of the seven newcomers that will suit up for the Gamecocks this season (three transfers and four freshmen). In addition to his talent, Downey also has the same natural leadership that Kelley had.
"He's vocal, he's demanding, and you know where he stands," Odom said of Downey. "I think he's learning everyday. The thing that I think he is working on right now is being more clear in what he expects out of the team. [Great players] have less patience than those who are more normal. One of the things that I keep talking to Devan about, is they don't see the game the same way as you."
With Downey pushing the tempo on offense, Odom is looking to create a more up-tempo pace on defense. The Gamecocks lack of depth last season forced Odom to abandon the trapping defense he likes to use. This year, he expects to have the depth needed to return to the style of play he employed when the team won back to back NIT Championships.
"I think what we'll do is go back to the trapping of Renaldo [Balkman], Tarence [Kinsey], and Rocky [Trice]," Odom said. "That was an up-tempo team, particularly as we came down the stretch, with traps and fast breaks and spontaneity. That's what I hope that you'll see."
Toward that end, Odom has emphasized transition play in practice. During a recent practice session open to the media, the team spent the first third of the workout practicing the running game. Not willing to put all his eggs in one basket, though, Odom also locked the team on one side of the court and made them work exclusively on their half-court defense.
"We practiced (one day last week) for an hour and fifteen minutes, and I don't think we ever left the half-court level," said Odom. "Some teams tire out defensively and want to get their hands on the ball eventually. This team didn't. I was amazed at that. They seem to enjoy staying on defense. I think our offense is going to be a reflection of what we do on defense."
What the Gamecocks do not have this season is a true center. This is not much of a change from recent years, though, when Brandon Wallace manned the pivot. Although he is Carolina's all-time leader in blocked shots, Wallace earned a spot in the NBA as a small forward, which goes to show that he was always more comfortable away from the basket than on the low block. Picking up the slack, however, is a number of strong, physical power forwards who can bang inside, including returning starter Dominique Archie, Chad Gray, and freshmen Sam Muldrow, Mike Holmes and Austin Steed.
"We don't have a lot of height," Odom said, "but we do have some strength inside. I don't expect us to be taken advantage of inside over the course of 40 minutes like we were last year. I think we'll be much better able to protect ourselves inside."
The Gamecocks will tip off the regular season on Friday night at 8:00 p.m. when they play host to the S.C. State Bulldogs at the Colonial Center.
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