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March 29, 2004

USC Head Basketball Coach Dave Odom met with the media on Monday and discussed this past season, the future of the program, the players, the schedule next year and a few other important issues.

Odom looks back on this season first

“When you look back at our season, I believe you can say we had an amazing year. It really was.

“Usually, when good things happen, it’s the players that get it done, and that was the case this year. You really do have to give our players a lot of credit. They accomplished some truly remarkable things. In light of where they were in August, when they entered school, the way they ended up a week ago, it was truly a remarkable journey. I will give them all the credit in the world for all of the things they accomplished. The roadblocks, the hurdles, the obstacles they overcame were significant. They still held the course, and pushed forward, and I give them a lot of credit, each and everyone of them.

“I’m very, very pleased with how the season turned out, but I am not satisfied. You can look back at the season, and you can dissect every game – each win, each loss, the way the thing unfolded. You can make a case for us winning a few more games, and you can make a case for us losing a few more games. So what we have to do is accept it for what it was. Still, I am not satisfied. I think, in some ways, we might have done better, but I am pleased. I’m pleased with the personnel on our team, I’m pleased with our staff, and I’m pleased with where our program is right now. The challenge now is to build upon the layer of foundation this team left behind.

On filling the void of Mike Boynton, Jr. and his leadership

“We truly are faced with challenges for the here-to-come. Some of which are the leadership factor with Michael Boynton departing, and with the way he stepped forward and led our team. We will feel the void he has left behind. We really need to plug two or three guys in that position right now, and see how it shakes out. Probably the most important thing we need to do right now is to find one, two, or three leaders to come in and direct this team in the coaches’ absence. I think it’s more important in the off-season than during the season based on if coaches can’t be around in June, July, and August like we can this time of year. I can see the team everyday right now, but in June, July, and August I can just give them suggestions, and then let them take it. That’s where leadership is vital. I really feel that we need to develop that right away.

Developing an inside presence

“If you go past the leadership, obviously we have to develop in inside presence. We ended up the year without the kind of inside leadership that I am comfortable with. We really need to work hard offensively, defensively, rebounding, develop an inside presence in the post, not only with one person, but two or three. You may say where is that going to come from, obviously John Chappell, Paulius Joneliunas and Brandon Wallace will all be back and we’ve got Carlos Powell back. After three years, we pretty much know what we have with Carlos Powell.

Brandon Wallace

“With Brandon Wallace, we’re hoping he will report back in August with a different body and with an improved measure of physicality. I think he will. He is one that will work hard. He understands the challenges ahead of him, and also the opportunities ahead of him. I think he’ll do well.”

Paulius and John

“Paulius and John have already started their off-season program. I believe that both of them will improve, and I believe that both of them will contribute much more than they did this year, in terms of minutes played. So, I’m very pleased with where they are.”

A defensive stopper, a leader

“We need a defensive stopper, whether it be inside, and or outside. I think it is very, very important that we find somebody that will hang his playing minutes on his ability to stop the opponent’s best player, like Mike Boynton did this year. The job he did being a defender, as well as being a leader, was spectacular. It was invaluable. I have to talk to the kid’s everyday, and I talk to them about defense and about stepping forward. I need to find someone that will step up and take the role that no one else will. Who that is, I do not know right now. We need to find somebody that will sacrifice some other areas to be a defensive stopper. That’s really important to us right now, and we have some candidates there right now, but that’s important.

Style of play

“As far as our style of play, I think would start off the same way it did this year. I don’t see that changing a lot. I think we might even see that upgrading a bit-more trapping, more pressing, and more full court play. I think our shooting will be better. It was better this year, but I think it will be even better next year. We’ve already signed one player that I know can really shoot the ball, and another one that has committed, so I think our perimeter shooting will improve. Hopefully the guys we have coming back will improve their shooting as well.

The schedule

“The schedule for next year, we are working on. We even worked on it this morning. We aren’t finished with it, we have two or three more games to schedule, but I’m holding off on those to see what kind of direction we want to go in. I feel good about our schedule. I feel good about our home schedule. We have two or three more home games. I did not want two or three more last year, but I do this year. I think our fans caught on so well with our team, and the student body was good for our team, and I think one or two more home games would be good for us next year. So, I’m looking forward to that. I don’t know exactly where it’s going to head the last two or three games, but we’re talking to good people, and I feel good about that.

Q – Can you talk about the schedule that you have set up already? Are Temple and N.C. State definitely off?

A – “Their contracts are up. As far as the other ones go, we have some contracts out, but we’d rather not comment on them until we get them back. There have been a couple of agreements. Obviously, Clemson comes here this year. I’m not going to play at anyone’s place in the state this year.

Q – Who are some of the candidates that you have in mind to fill that “defensive stopper spot?

A – “Tre Kelley has to be one that you look at. Tarence Kinsey could be one that you look at, as well as Renaldo Balkman. I think that’s one area where Josh Gonner needs to improve. I think he’s better on the ball than off. He has to play all the time. Again, Carlos we know about. I think if we can get Brandon’s body to the point where it can stand some physicality, the rebounding will improve as he gets bigger, but I think he will improve defensively as well. We know he’s a shot blocker. He’s one that should be able to be a little bit like Rolando Howell, in his ability to play well inside, simply because he has good feet. He’s quick; he can go inside and outside.

Q – Do you think it’s fair to say you’ve lost your best two defenders in Michael and Rolando?

A – “I think it’s absolutely fair. That’s the challenge we face. There’s no question about that.”

Q – On expectations for the team – do you have some idea of how they’d handle them, because they haven’t been faced with ‘Okay, we expect something from them now?

A – “I think they’ll handle it very well because I will see to it that they handle it very well. The word that you just used, expectations, is one that we’re going to stay away from. I can’t make the media stay away from it. I couldn’t make the fans stay away from it. I just received my 12 assignments from the Gamecock Club today. I received 12, Coach Holtz received 12, and I’m going to do my best to keep the word expectations out of my talk. I do think there’s a way to do that, and whether people embrace my way, I don’t know, but I know my team will. I want my team to think they’re better. I want them to want more, I want them to feel they can achieve more. Somehow I have to get them to feel that way without the weight of a burden on their shoulders. Because they’re not ready for that yet, but they are ready to think higher, to think more, to reach higher, they’re ready for that.”

Q – How did you get to that point at Wake Forest? To the point where you got the Duncans, the Childresses, the Rutledges, where you were sure they could handle the expectations?

A – “Just like we’re doing here. We’ve had what I consider two good years, one that I would consider to not be a good year, but we’ve talked about that enough. It was done incrementally, and I don’t look at myself as a quick fix guy. I look at myself, and I see the vision that I have for a basketball program is that it grows step by step, or two steps at a time. Whatever happens, I look at it where it eventually gets to the point where it feeds itself. It gets its energy from itself. It’s like a starter battery, once you plug it in it generates itself, it goes on. You can go out and get some questionable characters or questionable students, and maybe it gets done sooner, but I don’t think that lasts. It’s not my way. Whenever my time is done here, whenever that may be, I want to be able to walk away from it, and know that whoever comes in behind me is left with a program that is academically sound, that is well stocked with talent that can compete in the SEC and nationally, and one that can feel good about itself, and doesn’t carry the paranoia that runs with a program that is not used to winning.”

Q – You told us last year that this job might be a little harder than when you first took it. Do you now feel that the program is back on course for your plan?

A – “I did say that it was a little harder than I anticipated. Maybe not for the reasons people think, but it is. It continues to be a real challenge, but most jobs like this are. I don’t think that’s a negative at all. I just think that’s the way it is. To me, I look at situations and say why, and then once I find out why, I know how to fix it. That’s where we are right now. I think we’ve found some answers. Now we have to build on them. We have to plug them in, and I don’t think we’re that far from getting that done. When you go back and look at some of the things we’ve done, we notched a few belts this year. We won at Auburn, the LSU game here was a huge thing for us, and the two wins against Vanderbilt, winning at Georgia for the first time that was a huge thing for us. So, you go on and know you’ve got some things to do. Florida being one of them we want to win and then Kentucky flies out there. Mississippi State is very much alive and on top. But at the same time, we finished third in the East. We won’t be satisfied with that though.”