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March 27, 2006

New York City, N.Y. – USC, preparing to play Louisville on Tues., March 28 at 9 pm in Madison Square Garden in the NIT Semi-finals, flew up to New York City on Sunday night. The team had a 7:30 am breakfast on Monday morning, prior to departing for practice at the New York Downtown Athletic Club at 9 am. USC practiced until 11 am and then Coach Odom, Tarence Kinsey and Tre’ Kelley attended the NIT press conference at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. After an afternoon study hall the team will have some time to explore the city before going to the ESPN Zone Monday evening for the NIT welcome dinner with Louisville, Michigan and Old Dominion.

USC has won more games in the NIT than any other team in the SEC (19). The eight straight wins by USC in the NIT is one game away from tying the record for most wins straight in the NIT. In addition, USC has held 11 straight teams under its scoring average. Renaldo Balkman was cleared to practice on Sunday and he has since practiced with twice with the team.

Coach Odom spoke to the media in Columbia on Sunday and then to the media in New York City on Monday at the NIT Press Conference. In addition, Kinsey and Kelley also sat down with the media for one on ones in Columbia and New York City. The NIT Press Conference included all four head coaches and comments from Coach Pitino follow as well.

Here are a few of their comments.

Coach Odom comments on the NIT and Louisville
“On behalf of our basketball team, our university and our state we are honored to be here. We make no apologies about it. We look at this as a very special opportunity. I can’t imagine a young boy not having a dream about playing in Madison Square Garden. This is a dream and a chance to realize that here. I am also excited about the new format and the importance the NCAA has put on the NIT. I am also excited Jack Powers decided to stay on and guide the NCAA through it’s first year and beyond.

“Our basketball team has been a good team all year. We lost a number of games by one point which shows consistency, but not the kind you want. All of a sudden things began to change a little bit and if you ask me why, I can’t tell you. It doesn’t take much to flip it from head to tails. But it’s a good thing.

“We were here last year and good things happened last year for us. It helps you all summer preparation wise. It’s a fun time and a time that we will all have a chance to look back on and be very proud of. Rick has really brought his team along well. He will put five out there and I will put five out there and we both will play really, really hard. I hope we are both able to walk away from there with it being close and remaining very very good friends.

“Louisville – I have watched them until I was tired the last few days. I want to give Clemson credit; they really gave Louisville some trouble a couple weeks ago. They put a lot of pressure on Louisville, but Louisville had enough to win in the end. I did think in looking at that game there is a lot to be garnered from it and learned. I think we have some things that can be effective. You have to get the ball in bounds, get it up the floor effectively and get the ball in half court offense. They are playing more zone than any Rick Pitino team I’ve seen in a long time. They have had some injury problems and that might be why. They attack you in the zone. It almost gives you the feeling that you are playing man to man, but they have four guys stationed around the ball so there is no room to drive.

“One thing they have that is interesting they have really good athletes inside. We have to be really really smart in what we do. We have to figure out a way to get inside on their zone. The other end of the court is a perimeter game for them and they attack the glass. They all get it off the glass. They get it off blocks, offensive rebounds, break-outs. They run at you hard. They keep playing and playing and playing – we have to keep some order in the game and if we can we have a chance.

Coach Pitino comments on the NIT and South Carolina “Unlike the other three teams that are here (NIT), we did not have a case to play in the NCAA this year. But we have a tremendous opportunity to try to create something special. It is special for us. I remember the old format so well. The night before the NIT we would try to call every single person we knew to get Jack Powers to get in. Many of the games have been on television and the games in the NIT have been sensational. This is the 10th anniversary of winning a championship in the Meadowlands for me. College basketball is tremendous. Tradition isn’t thrown out the window, but dominance is thrown out the window and that is why today is the most exciting time of the year. There is nothing like March Madness and it’s gotten so much better than it was 10 years ago, but now if you think you are going to win you probably have a swagger that you are going to get knocked off. This is really exciting to be here.”

Q: Do you feel like your team has something to prove in New York? What about Louisville?

Odom: Any team that goes into the NIT, goes into it has something to prove. It’s not always ‘we should have been in the NCAA tourney’. It’s trying to prove you are better than you have been all along. Rick Pitino has had a couple key injuries and they set you back. He knew this year would be a different year: more zone, more zone press and just brought them along slower. He has done a great job and positioned himself for a great year next year.

Q: Why have you been so successful in the NIT over the years?

Odom: I really don’t know. It’s more the mental approach I take rather than what others take. I said this last year and I will say again – no one wants to be known as a great NIT coach. A friend of mine’s wife told me I was the king of the NIT. You do what you can do given the situation. I want this program to consistently be in the post-season and we have. I want this program to be consistently in the NCAA Tournament and we haven’t done that. We have to keep from knee jerking, be steady and keep rocking forward. When I know one thing is not possible, we aren’t chosen for the NCAA, I immediately turn myself to what is possible and I feel like I have the ability to do the same thing and do it quickly. That is probably the biggest key. I don’t dwell on things I can’t control and I try to convey to them. I think it’s the right thing. The teams in the NIT are presumably not as good. But by the time you get to the final four (NIT) those teams are so good in the NIT that they can beat most teams in the NCAA Tournament any given night. The final 16, the final 8 and maybe the final four teams. There are no bad teams this time of year still playing. We are down in numbers right now and so is Louisville. The thing that I have found is you can have some fun with it, win some games and get better.

Tarence Kinsey Comments
“It feels good to have another chance to make history and win back to back championships. We want to do that.

(Do you have an advantage because USC played there last year?) “You could say that, but Louisville is a very very good team. Like Coach Odom tells us, a lot depends on who plays the hardest for the longest time.

“It wasn’t easy last year – playing three home games to get here, but you can’t take anything from Florida State or Cincinnati. They are two very tough places to play and very good teams. We can’t hang our hats on that for the rest of the year, but those are two good wins on the road for us.

(Hard to play with just nine players?) “The only thing that fatigue plays a part in is during practice. It’s easy to play the game because you love it. But it’s harder to get everyone going in practice because you have to play the entire time.

(What is special about the NIT?) “You have a chance for the seniors to go out in style. I really wanted us to get another home game – that is what I was playing for. It is also an opportunity for the underclassman to step up and improve.

(Does Coach Odom do anything special to help win games in the NIT?) “It really comes from that first game. The way he prepares for the first tournament game. Coach Odom does a great job of getting the team motivated and hyped up for the first game. And then you go on the momentum from that.”

(Time is winding down for you? Has it hit you?) “It hit home for me awhile back. I guess yesterday was my last practice in practice facility. The day before was my last time lifting weights for the University and so it’s getting there.”