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March 18, 2003

USC Men’s Basketball Coach Dave Odom met with the media Monday night as a post-season wrap-up and had this to say:

“This year was no different than any other in one respect. After each and every year and after each and every game, I feel personal responsibility for the performance of our team. In that this year was very similar to all other years I have spent, as a coach, the difference is that most years I feel good about the results. I think the year before I felt good. That this year I don’t feel good about the results, but I feel good about our program and I think that is where the explanation needs to be.

“I don’t feel good about the results for obvious reasons. Statistics don’t lie. We did not have a winning season and we did not accomplish post-season goals and I feel accountable and responsible for that. It would serve no purpose to sit here and recreate events that occurred whenever you want to start.

“I think we all know what happened and what did not happen. In most cases I think we know why. Still in planning for next season it is good for me to talk to my staff and team about the why and how and what for and all those questions that come up. To air those publicly is not in our best interest right now. I think it would put a slant on the season that would be harmful.

“The part that I would really like to spend the most time on is the status of our program. Where we are and where we expect to go and how we expect to get there I think that is far more important right now because those things we have control over and those things we have an opportunity to effect.

“First thing that I want to address as I look forward is those players returning. To that I held a meeting today and I think I was very direct to them in how I feel. I have every confidence in the returning players given the proper commitment each one of those players will have an opportunity to contribute to our team next year. I don’t see anyone leaving at this point. I see all of our players returning next year.

“We are going to begin our off-season program Monday. It is going to be stringent and I am going to ask them to work in a way that I feel are of championship quality. I am going to ask them to sacrifice a lot of their individual wants and desires. Time is going to be of the essence. We are going to maximize the allowable NCAA hours that are possible. We are doing that not as punishment for a losing season, but because I know that is what championship teams do. I feel really good about that we will begin Monday and we have got approximately six weeks and we can accomplish a great deal in six weeks. We can set the tone for what’s expected as a team when we come back in August.

“One of the things I really hope to establish in the off-season is I am going to give each player a chance to develop leadership. I think this is some thing that this program sorely needs. I think we need a person or a few players to step up and say ‘try me’. If we can find that I think it will go a long way in carrying us into the fall.

“That brings me to something that I believe with all my heart this university and this basketball program has no reason to not be among the very best in our league. We have nothing that would prohibit us from doing that except ourselves. With that said, that status is not reached quickly or easily. There are great sacrifices to be paid along the way and they will be paid but that is a realistic goal. I think the biggest obstacle to keeping that from becoming a reality is the way the youth of today suddenly are taught before you find out what you are going to get and give just enough to get that. They want instant rewards for everything they do they want instant gratification that is not the way champions are made. I think this is a societal problem and I think that our team is affected by that some. I think there is a feeling across the youth today that it goes the other way and we have got to change that. We have got to touch those kids in a way that they care more about our team and our program than they care about themselves. We must get to the point where there is ownership on the part of the players where they choose what kind of team we have. I want them to grab ownership of this program and say enough is enough and we are going to change it. The things we do in the off season are going to be planned with those things in mind helping them gain ownership and helping them understand what matters.”

“Our schedule was also very difficult this season. On Saturday I saw Georgia had the toughest schedule in the country and we were No. 2. We played in the best league in the country this year and the strength of our non-conference schedule plus injuries made for a difficult year. Especially considering now the post-season success of so many of our non-conference opponents.” (SC State, Colo. State, ETSU all won their Conf. Tourney and is headed to the NCAAs; NC State was the runner-up in the ACC Tourney and made the NCAAs; Temple made the finals of their conf. Tourney and is headed to the NIT; Georgetown and Wyoming both made the NIT).

How do you feel about all the line up changes?

“I don’t like it, but when you have got a guard turning over the ball too much or you have post guys who are not rebounding and scoring you have to make changes. I will be honest with you I did not change as much as I wanted to. Sometime I did not make changes because of our injuries and I could not make the changes I felt would help our team. Sometimes you can only get people’s attention when you make those changes. So no, I don’t like that, but until we get to the point where leaders are established and teammates are the most important thing that is the way it is going to be. Player are going to have to understand that great effort is appreciated up to a point and at some point performance kicks in as well.”

Next year what are the building blocks that you see?

“The most critical thing right now is off-season and in-season leadership. That is the one thing that must surface. We have got to get a core of players to show great leadership. When you look at definitive things our rebounding must improve. Rebounding was at the bottom of the SEC and there is no excuse for that with our size. Our rebounding has got to be improved and it will be. Defensively I thought our field goal percentage defense was high but we did not convert all of our defensive opportunities. If we are going to steal the basketball and not convert it, than maybe I need to rethink our team defensively. Offensively we have go to reestablish the balance between our inside and outside. I do think a lot of that will take care of itself because we have got better shooters coming in. We have got make sure our inside players are converting more we didn’t convert the ball inside nearly like we should have last year.”

Is the Warren injury the one that had the greatest impact on your season?

Statistically he was the guy that hurt us the most on the perimeter, but Marius’ injury hurt too. I would not discount him because he gave us the one thing we never developed and that was toughness in the post. There was 5 more fouls there and 20 more minutes of toughness and you take that out of your lineup it hurts.

Are there any regrets about not leaving the freshman in the rotation?

If a freshman is not a starter early on how do they get into the game? They get in the game because the returnees eventually blow out the non-competition. We could not do that because we didn’t have our team. If you go back and look we didn’t do that and I knew what lies ahead. We had four out of five games coming up on the road against quality competition. You can’t afford to lose those games, you just can’t. So it was hard to get those freshmen in. They missed what normal freshmen should get and that is a chance to play measurable minutes in November and December. Then all of a sudden you face the onslaught of the SEC and you know they are not going to get it then. Unless what happened happens. Chris Warren goes down and you are faced with that. You are faced with doing what you must do versus what you would like to do. I will more likely have more options next year than I had this year. There shouldn’t be that big a delineation between the junior seniors and the freshman sophomores. The ability level should be closer.”

Do you feel any pressure from Athletis Director Mike McGee about making the NCAA next year?

“Yes I feel it. I would not call it pressure I would call it responsibility. I expect to be there and I expect to have a team with me. Beyond that I don’t feel any uneasiness if that is what you mean, but I do feel a responsibility myself to be there. Whatever you do is not enough. That said I do think it is realistic for us to be among the best I have already said that to you and if you are among the best you will be playing this time of year. There is no reason why this program should not be in post-season play every year when our system, buidling a winning foundation, is in place. What are the things it takes a great league, a great arena, great players, and great fans and supporters. We have all those things and I see no reason why we can’t do that. I believe that when I came and I feel that now.”