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Gamecocks Hungry for Further Success

Coming off a 2004 NCAA Tournament appearance, which saw USC win 23 games, the Gamecocks are ready to roll up their sleeves again this year and continue working towards building a nationalcaliber basketball program. With a battle-tested group of returnees and four fine newcomers, USC is looking for the right formula to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.

But, USC will have to battle through a demanding schedule. Playing at perennial powers Kansas and Pittsburgh and entertaining Temple and Clemson, those teams are a few of the names that will dot the non-conference schedule with the always tough Southeastern Conference schedule immediately following.

“It is now time for us to challenge ourselves nationally if we hope to be a national program at some time in the future. Thus, it’s time to go to Kansas and it’s time to go to Pitt,” said USC Head Coach Dave Odom, in his fourth year at the Gamecock helm. “We have worked hard in the last two-three years and it has not been easy to get a schedule that is balanced both at home and away with intersectional opponents. We’re close to accomplishing that.

“It’s a good schedule, a challenging schedule, one that might not allow us to achieve as many wins as we had last year but I think it is a schedule that challenges us in the right way,” continued Odom. “It forces us to begin to think about ourselves differently. Instead of just being a program that can survive, I want us to begin to think about our-selves as a program that can achieve. You go from one level of thought to the other.”

Last summer the emphasis for the Gamecocks was completely on how much work they could accomplish and how much workload they could handle both as a team and individually. The workload demand was made as difficult as possible so USC would toughen up both mentally and physically. As a team, led by captain Mike Boynton, Jr., the results showcased a 23-11 record and an NCAA Tournament appearance.

USC also finished tied for third with NCAA Sweet 16 participant Vanderbilt in the SEC East. What did USC work on this summer to make sure that it wasn’t a one-year wonder in the win column? With new strength coach Matt Jennings at the helm in the weight room, USC worked on two things normally found in the off-season. They worked on strength and conditioning, but the Gamecocks also put more emphasis on flexibility, developing quickness and reactions and building strength in and around the core section of the body.

The question now begs ‘will the Gamecocks be as successful this year as they were last year’? “I could not answer that last year at this time either,” said Odom. “I can only say that I recognize a difference in the past two years and I feel that we made the progress and met the goals that we set out to accomplish. Only time will tell with the season ahead.”

Leadership was very instrumental to USC’s success in 2004 and will be just as important heading into this season. But USC must replace five seniors, including Boynton, whose strong leadership both on and off the court played a pivotal role in the team’s success. A team can replace statistics and bodies, but leadership is the most important thing the Gamecocks need to develop.

“Leadership has so much to do with everything else,” said Odom. “It has to do with chemistry, with role definition and keeping balance when you go through a long season and disappointments. You have to have great leadership so I think leadership is always an important factor.”

The second key to USC’s success will be the need to reestablish and even improve on its ability to defend. USC lost two key defenders in Boynton and Rolando Howell. The rebounding must also improve. The third key for USC’s success will be its ability to have a consistent balance on the post and the perimeter on offense. The need to establish a low post game to compliment their strengths on the perimeter is a must.

The good news is USC should be faster and quicker. Team-wide the ball handling as a team should be better. While USC lost Boynton to graduation, they do have Tre’ Kelley, Josh Gonner and Renaldo Balkman returning. They are all improved ball handlers and decision makers so USC doesn’t have to put the entire load on a single guard this year.

“Our assist to turnover ratio was one of the best in the league last year, but it was really one guy handling the ball: Mike Boynton,” said Odom. “This year we need to work to make sure it’s a team effort and the load isn’t resting on one person’s shoulders.”

As mentioned, the perimeter should start out as being the strength of the team. The quickness translates to a faster tempo, which will require USC to go to its bench more often as USC can go seven-deep on the perimeter.

“We have good speed, good quickness and the ability to make plays so we should have the ability to score with pretty good depth off the bench,” said Odom. “The strength of our team initially will be our perimeter but I would hope by the time we get to January that we have established our post players as being equally good defensively, rebounding and offensively. I would hope it would all mesh together. But as you look at it in total we have good, maybe the best team speed we’ve had and the best team quickness we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

But the key, like with most teams, is leadership. Senior Carlos Powell has stepped up and the coaches credit him at this point as he has really recognized the need for leadership and he’s doing it his own way. John Chappell is making contributions as a leader and putting forth the effort. Tre’ Kelley is also doing an excellent job.

If USC is to return to the NCAA Tournament this season, it won’t be because they have the 2004 SEC Coach of the Year at the helm or an All-SEC player in Carlos Powell or an improved sophomore squad – it will be because the Gamecocks played as a team day in and day out.