Odom and Day set for their final home game
Odom announced his retirement on January 18th, giving him plenty of time to prepare for this moment. Even so, he has not spent much time thinking about his last game as the coach of the Gamecocks. He hopes, though, that his last game will go better than his first. In that first game, a security guard stopped the new coach and demanded to see a ticket.
"Presumably I won't need a ticket for this game," Odom joked. "When I leave my house [Wednesday] night, and I take that ride for the last time, being human, I am sure I am going to think about it. I am not sure what I will think, but there is no doubt that I will be thinking that it is my last ride over. Everything I do in that building, presumably, would be the last time I do it. I have always said I don't ever want to do anything for the last time, but I guess you are kind of faced with that. After the LSU game I began to think about it a little more."
With almost all of his seven years at Carolina behind him, Odom is starting to look back on his tenure and what went well and what went wrong. The pros and cons have been debated ad nauseam by Gamecock fans. His supporters point to the 20 win seasons, two NIT championships and a runner-up appearance, three NBA players, and an NCAA Tournament berth as proof of his success. The detractors point to the fact that Odom never finished over .500 in the SEC, say players failed to develop under his tutelage and he recruited poorly, and dismiss the NIT performances as excelling at being average. Odom was asked Monday if he felt he had been treated fairly by the fans.
"That's not for me to judge," he said. "The fans by and large have been very good to me. Those that are dissatisfied are the more vocal and the ones you hear the most. For every person who has been vocal with their dissent, they are outnumbered … more than double [by positive contacts]. Those who have not been satisfied, it's okay. I am not mad at them - that's the life I have chosen and I am ok with that."
Odom acknowledged that there is a level of disappointment in his accomplishments as a Gamecock. He pointed to his record in the SEC, and cited recruiting mistakes as one of the causes. He added that he learned from those mistakes, and his successor should have a talented team to work with.
"If we had made gains in the SEC regular season that would have taken care of the post-season," said Odom. "It starts with a better SEC record, which would pole vault you into NCAA play. Some recruiting decisions that I made slowed that down, even kept it from happening. I was not in tune with what we actually needed and as much what I needed to be successful. For two or three years I was not in touch with it because I listened to others too much, but I don't blame anyone. I should have been true to myself and what I know."
As a fellow departing figure, Day talked about how emotional the night will be for the two of them. He said he looks forward to going to Odom's house so the two could talk and enjoy some soul food.
"I'm pretty sure we're going to sit down and talk a whole lot more," Day said. "He's done so much for me. He's another father figure that I'll never forget."
Senior night for Day
Like Odom, Day has had a star-crossed career as a Gamecock. He arrived as a highly touted recruit, and exploded onto the scene as a true freshman with 14 points in 12 minutes in a loss at Florida. He never built on that start, and struggled with consistency the rest of his career. This season, though, he has reinvented himself as a defensive stopper and rebounder.
"There have been a lot of ups and downs; consistency has been a factor with me," he admitted. "What I have found a niche in is playing defense. The last couple of games I have been rebounding well. I wish I had been doing that two or three years ago, but better late than never. I find myself wanting to rebound. I never thought a little guy like me could go in for rebounds. I get bumped around, pushed a lot, and frustrated, but it's that whole excitement of looking at the stat sheet and seeing I got 7-8 rebounds. I want to get ten so bad. I'm telling you now; I'm trying to get 10 rebounds Wednesday. I want to get my first double-double."
Though he admitted that he has not achieved everything he could, Day said he would never call his time as a Gamecock a disappointment. He insists he is completely focused on this season and does not think about what he may have missed out on, though he said he may take some time after the season to reflect.
"It's not over yet," he smiled. "It's not over until the fat lady sings, and she ain't singing yet. I haven't heard her. We won two NITs. It can't get any better than that with me. I've got two rings sitting on my dresser right now, and I kiss those suckers daily. I'm satisfied. I wish I had gotten that NCAA Tournament experience. Growing up, you watch it on TV and think, I want to know what that's like. I wish that could have happened for me, but right now, I'm satisfied; I'm not disappointed at all."
An African-American Studies major, Day said that's the most important thing to him right now. In fact, he said he was getting excited just talking about graduating. He hopes to play professional basketball somewhere after he graduates, although he has not started thinking about his post-graduation future. Before graduation, though, he has Senior Night.
"It really hasn't hit me yet that this is it," he said. "I'm pretty sure Wednesday night it will. A tear might come from here or there, so y'all might see the soft side of Dwayne. My mom is coming. She is excited. I talked to her last night on the phone, and she was getting really emotional. I was like, just wait, this is my senior night, not yours. I'm going to really miss these guys, and I'm going to really miss coach. It's been a great joyride for me."
Odom echoed how Day described himself. He said that Day "underachieved" in his career. Despite that, Odom insisted he will remember Day fondly as a hard worker and good person.
"Rather than focus on the first three years, I will go away from South Carolina thinking about Dwayne Day from January 1, 2008 through the end of his career," said Odom. "Given the fact that he did not develop his first three years, he could not have been better in the SEC season this year. He has been terrific for us. He has been a good leader, our best defensive player and improved his rebounding 50%. He's been nothing but everything we wanted him to be. He's been terrific really. You want to see a player go out with their best play, and Dwayne, to his credit, is doing that."
It is not very often that Kentucky (16-11, 10-4 SEC) coming to Columbia is a side story, but even Ashley Judd could not help the Wildcats this week. That being said, Kentucky presents an interesting challenge for the Gamecocks (13-15, 5-9 SEC). Kentucky won 78-70 in Lexington behind 22 points and 9 rebounds from center Patrick Patterson. However, Patterson is out for the season with a stress fracture in his ankle, forcing the Wildcats to adjust their attack. They have played just one game since the injury, against Tennessee, leaving the Gamecocks without much of a track record to go on.
"As far as Kentucky, you are in a quandary as to how to handle this game," Odom said. "I looked at [the] Tennessee game twice, and their style is entirely different than it has been without Patrick Patterson. They have been playing with a smaller lineup and different emphasis. You don't know whether they did that for one game and they're going to continue that, or it was Tennessee specific and they are going to go back. We really have got to prepare for two styles. Even their defense was also different against Tennessee."
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