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April 3, 2002

University of South Carolina head men’s basketball coach Dave Odom met with members of the media Tuesday afternoon to wrap-up the 2001-02 season that saw the Gamecocks advance to the title game of the Owens-Corning National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Coach Odom recounted the season in portions, starting with his arrival in Columbia last April, and running through his team’s trip to the Maui Invitational to open the season, SEC league play and the Gamecocks’ impressive postseason run.

Below is a portion of Coach Odom’s remarks to the media recapping a season in which the Gamecocks were 22-15. Coach Odom won more games than any other first-year South Carolina head coach and the Gamecocks played games to the latest point on the calendar (March 28) than ever before.

Quotes from South Carolina Head Coach Dave Odom:

“I’m not one for doing seasonal grades of our team’s play. I think the bottom line is I feel our team improved incrementally throughout the season. My staff deserves a great deal of credit for plotting the course before the season and seeing that I stuck through it. They encouraged me to set the bar high, and I think our team lived up to that.

We had to set the bar higher than the players felt they were capable of reaching, and in the end they did that. I am proud of Jamel [Bradley] and Aaron [Lucas] for staying the course through their four years. They made significant contributions to this program. Jamel shared his courage with us, proving that we can overcome anything we want as a group. With dogged determination and leadership, Aaron was committed to go out a winner, and he did that. He loved the Gamecocks, never wanted to go anywhere else, and wanted to make the Gamecock fans happy. I want them to know they will always have an important place in the Gamecock family, no matter where they are.

I think our season began not in Maui but a year ago this time when I came aboard. I asked them to let me be their friend first, then their coach, and they did that. We found ourselves having a good summer academically and strength and conditioning wise. Maui was very good for our team developmentally. It was about, let’s go over there and find out where we are in relation to the best teams in the country. Coming out of that, we knew we had a long way to go. We were not where we had to be, but we had plenty of time to get there. We set a plan of where we wanted to be and how we were going to get there. We planned mini-portions of the schedule. The Clemson game was very important for us in that we did it at Clemson. It spring-boarded us into a good exam period. Our defense looked like what I’m accustomed to seeing that time of the year.

On Tony Kitchings’ second concussion suffered during the Clemson game: Tony Kitchings was playing his best basketball at that time, and it set him back and set us back. We weren’t able to get him pushed as far as I wanted, and I couldn’t get him back into the lineup as soon as I wanted.

We were 10-3 at the calendar break, and there was something significant in that [marked first time in USC history that the Gamecocks won double figure games before January 1]. It gave our team something to hang their hat on – it was a reward for hard work since Maui.

Nobody opened their conference any more difficult than did we. By February, I was quietly more confident about our team. We began to play better, our defense was stronger and our offense was working on all cylinders. We subtly made the move to Chuck [Eidson] handling the ball more. We kind of fell into it at Arkansas against their pressure, and in our planning sessions we began to see if we could get the ball into his hands more to free up Jamel and Aaron more.

After the Alabama game [in the SEC Tournament], our team came back like few other teams could, I am convinced of that. They came back, again. How does a team do that? It just did not seem fair, but they came back. They put it aside, had one more chance to prove their meddle, and they did it. No more than 10 other teams could have done that I believe. For their resilience and ability to come back against all odds, this is truly a comeback team. They met every challenge I threw at them. I came back to Columbia [from the NIT] a proud coach and I remain that at this moment.

I feel blessed and fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with this group. I chose them, they did not choose me. To have the experience of hearing Jamel Bradley and Aaron Lucas address their teammates in the Madison Square Garden locker room, with tears flowing, proved to me we made measurable progress towards becoming the kind of program that this University deserves and that the fans desperately want. The feeling in your last locker room meeting is the best barometer of all. In New York, that’s the one I want. That one. It’s a product of 6:00 a.m., July 3rd, in the Williams-Brice weight room and 7:00 p.m. study halls Sunday nights and next day practices after a one-point loss to Kentucky. Its from demanding more of yourselves than others think reasonable. I look forward to continuing to build a program in the off-season.

Looking ahead to 2002-03 season: A number of issues are staring us right now. Academics are front and center. They take precedent over everything. I am going to challenge the team once more to get that done. We will re-involve some of our team next week physically, but most will wait a week beyond that for spring conditioning. I’m going to make certain demands for some players that I will not make for others. There will be different plans of our players, but in the end they will each get what they need and what they deserve. We have a good nucleus coming back. Our post players will be improved, our wing players will be better. We’ve got a lot of work to do at the two-guard, but we’ll get that done.”