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August 19, 2005

The America Supports You campaign, a nationwide Department of Defense program that showcases America’s support for the men and women in the Armed Forces, announced today “Operation Hardwood-Hoops With The Troops” a basketball tournament in which 8 NCAA coaches and sports personalities will travel to Kuwait to coach military basketball teams at Camp Arifjan.

Eight 13-member military basketball teams from camps throughout Kuwait will participate in the tournament from August 27 – 31. In addition to working with the soldiers, the coaches are planning to visit a local sports clinic to meet and coach Kuwaiti children who are learning the game.

Rick Kell, Executive Director, Operation Hardwood, in conjunction with the America Supports You team, has arranged for the following NCAA coaches and sports personalities to participate in the tournament:

Jay Bilas, ESPN commentator and former player, Duke UniversityBobby Cremins, former head coach, Georgia TechMark Gottfried, University of AlabamaTom Izzo, Michigan State UniversityMike Jarvis, ESPN commentator and former coach, St. John's UniversityBobby Lutz, University of North Carolina, UNC CharlotteDave Odom, University of South CarolinaKelvin Sampson, University of Oklahoma

“The idea for Operation Hardwood came in a moment last winter at a University of Maryland basketball game. Several troops that had recently returned from the Middle East were being honored and the basketball connection was apparent. With the help and encouragement from a number of friends, we launched “Operation Hardwood-Hoops With the Troops,” said Kell.

Allison Barber, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs said, “Operation Hardwood is a unique example of how Americans are showing their support for our military men and women in uniform. America Supports You is proud to be a part of this basketball tournament, and we look forward to the start of the games.”

This double elimination tournament will feature the best military players in Kuwait who have honed their skills in their off-duty time for the chance to work with these top-level coaches. The tournament will take place over 3 days and will include a 3-point shot and slam dunk contest prior to the start of the championship game. Nike Inc. assisted with recruiting the coaches and has donated shoes and uniforms for the teams.

“Sports have always been a great example of teamwork in action. We’re looking forward to sharing our experience with our men and women in uniform and the young children in Kuwait,” said Mark Gottfried, coach at the University of Alabama.

“We’re all very excited about the opportunity to get training and advice from some of the best coaches in basketball. This is truly the chance of a lifetime, and we’re looking forward to bringing our best game,” said Camp Navistar team coach Staff Sergeant James Price.

The event will conclude with a championship game that will determine the tournament winner.

About Operation Hardwood “Operation Hardwood-Hoops With The Troops” is an initiative launched to boost morale among U.S. military men and women serving in the Middle East, and give thanks to the people of Kuwait for their continued support.

About America Supports You Since the launch of the America Supports You program last November, more than one million Americans, including individual citizens, businesses and organizations, have logged onto to register the activities and projects in their communities that show their support for America’s Armed Forces, especially those serving in harm’s way.

Coach Odom Comments When He Met with the Media Coach Odom met with the media today and talked about Operation Hardwood, this year’s team and even gave a few hints about this year’s schedule which is due to be released by the SEC office on Friday, Aug. 26.

Media: Talk about your excitement with Operation Hardwood.

Odom: I grew up in Eastern North Carolina where there is a lot of military. The two Carolina’s are very heavily populated with our military and the military has had quite an influence on my life. My father was in the military for a period of time (US Army, served in World War I in France and Germany). When I look back over my life, I would say I lived a really good life. I have had a lot of wonderful experiences. But, if I could change one thing, I’d spend a couple years in the military. Maybe that’s something I would change. I didn’t dodge it, but it’s something I would want to have had experienced.

I am honored to be a very small part of Operation Hardwood. They wake up each and everyday to a very different life than we do here in the USA (in Kuwait). I look forward to sharing with the men and women of the Armed Forces our appreciation for what they do. Sometimes these types of trips are overdone, but in this case it’s not going to be. We hope to bring joy to them through basketball. Going over there isn’t a political statement: pro-war or anti-war. For me, it’s a trip with no political agenda’s other than to thank our troops from the bottom of my heart. I go over there with no safety concerns.

Media: How intense do you expect the basketball to be in Kuwait at the tournament?

Odom: I am not sure of the level of basketball from an ability standpoint. We will play three games and have one practice. It’s going to be a lot of fun, but knowing the service men and women – any kind of battle – even basketball, the competition will heat up a little and the intensity level will be elevated. The quality of coaches – myself excluded – is outstanding. Someone asked me yesterday if I will yell. I said I doubt I will yell more than their sergeants have yelled at them over the last six months or so. The coaches – we are wimps compared to them. I bet it will be a little more intense than I thought it would be at the outset. I get more excited everyday.

Media: What experiences do you expect to bring back with you?

Odom: I think every experience you have in life lends itself to learning and teaching. The experience of being around the other coaches will be a valuable experience. I am sure we will share a lot of basketball stories. But enjoying the Kuwait culture, learning the culture should open my eyes to living in a global world. I am sure I will be more thankful for the USA than I was before I left.

Media: What kind of team are you expecting this year?

Odom: We have as much depth on paper as any team I’ve coached in quite awhile. Will it be quality depth – we’ll see. We have a chance to be a very good basketball team. We have a lot of size. We have a lot to learn, a lot to do, but I am excited for the season. We have some big dudes coming in. Dominque Archie is going to be a terrific player. Ousane Konate – he’s all of 6’9 and 290 lbs. Brandon Wallace has put on weight, I bet he’s 30% stronger than he was last season. Renaldo Balkman has also gained weight. I expect Tarence Kinsey to be a leader and also Tre’ Kelley.

Media: How will winning the NIT title help you this year?

Odom: It’s almost as important the quality of teams that we beat to win the title than the title itself. We beat some very good teams along the way and that’s almost as important as the championship itself.

Media: When will you release your 2005-06 schedule?

Odom: The SEC will release it sometime next week. We open on the road at Western Carolina on Friday, Nov. 18. Then we return for a 2 pm game on Sunday, Nov. 19 against Toledo. After that, we go to the Alaska Shootout. We have a very good schedule this year – it’ll be tough. But we gotta make it happen. The time is now.

Gamecock Notes: USC started individuals yesterday, August 18 … Carlos Powell has signed a contract to play in Portugal and will depart on Wednesday, Aug. 24 … Rolando Howell has signed a contract to play in the top league in Italy … Kerbrell Brown has returned to Carolina, after spending a year playing in Iceland, to finish his degree. He will work with the team as an undergraduate manager/assistant.