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April 19, 2006

Columbia, SC – USC Head Coach Dave Odom met with the media Wednesday for the annual post-season wrap-up. Coach Odom talked about the season, next season, the NIT and run and Renaldo Balkman. The following is part of his opening statement and questions that followed from media.

Coach Odom’s opening statement

“This season there were several highs and several disappointments and a lot in between. It was one of the more challenging seasons I can remember mainly because personalities on our team demanded so much attention. We were also trying to get everyone on the same page at the same time for a long period of time and that was hard. When you look at how our season ended up – the championship in New York City at the NIT, you might ask what I remember most. The thing I remember most: it would be the determined resolve of our team as a whole, particularly our two seniors Tarence Kinsey and Rocky Trice. The fact they absolutely were our leaders from the standpoint of touches, motivation, sticking it out, crustiness – whatever it took to get us through the difficulties in late January and early February – they did their job.

“Practice began last October and our first game was Thanksgiving week. Our journey began in Anchorage and ended in New York City with a lot of travel in between – in excess of 23,000 miles. A lot of thinking happened during those trips and we experienced many things. I started the season running on Cook Inlet in the Frozen North in Anchorage and ended the final game day with my run in Central Park around the reservoir and in-between was the 23,000 miles. Our team played 38 games, which was a school record. Several different line-ups and truly a year of what goes around comes around. We started off with Tarence Kinsey, Rocky Trice, Renaldo Balkman, Tre’ Kelley and Brandon Wallace in the first line-up and we ended the season that way as well.

“We started in a tournament and ended up in a tournament. People ask me ‘what happened in the middle of the SEC, why couldn’t they play that way like they did at the end in the middle?’ It’s fair to talk about some of them in a setting like this (the post-season wrap-up). I probably waited too long to make a defensive decision on who should be in the post. In most years you need a solid postman to play defense at the level we are playing at. You look back at our time at Carolina and I have always had a big, strong guy in the middle. I waited too long to wait to make a determination in the middle. We went back to the speed and quickness line-up and it seemed to work for us.

“I think the Clemson game took more out of our team than I was willing to admit (77-55 loss at Clemson on Dec. 3, 2005). We had great preparation and a good game plan. I thought we would play extraordinary. We always have in Littlejohn. We laid an egg in Littlejohn instead. The only guy I remember playing well was Renaldo. Everyone else played much less than well. Brandon Wallace may have been bothered more about the loss than anyone else because he grew up with this game. That continued to serve as an anchor that kept pulling us back. And maybe me as well. I usually shake things off pretty good, but I think that game hurt us.

“The other part of the non-conference season was the Pitt game. I pointed to it because we needed a really good non-conference win and I pointed hard to the Pitt game. I knew they were a team that would pretty much be in the national rankings all year. We had BJ McKee’s retirement jersey that night. The football team had the Independence Bowl a day later and our crowd was split with people gone. We didn’t play great the first half, but we were ahead at half time. Renaldo did not have one of his better games, playing next to nothing in the second half. It was a game I thought we could have won and it would have been a big feather in our cap.

“First game of the conference season and nobody had any indication that Tennessee would be the type of team they ended up being. We were up 40-25 in the second half and go on to lose it. We lose to Georgia in overtime on a last-second shot so now we have a different animal to work with.

“We had to re-tool the team in mid-season and it was very tough. We didn’t have an injury problem. I was talking to men’s tennis coach Kent DeMars the other day. They were highly ranked preseason (after going to the NCAA Sweet 16 last year). He lost three of his top six players for the year early so he has to stop after about a month and coach his second team. That’s hard coaching. But he’s done a terrific job and they have climbed back up in the rankings.

“The other kind is like this year for my team. You think certain things about your team and then you throw it out the window and start over because it’s not working. You have to make some hard decisions on people you do have. You have to do that on the run as games continue and practice continues. Sometimes things happen in practice that don’t appear in games. You practice on Friday and then you don’t see what your practiced on Saturday afternoon. It takes a little more than one afternoon and it eventually comes. I felt it was beginning to turn in the second week of February. I felt if the season would last long enough it would happen.

“The Auburn game was a very important game, not that we played great. Winning that basketball game on the road gave us life. It gave us a glimmer of hope going into the SEC Tournament. RPI-wise it meant nothing. But from a hope standpoint, the light burned. “I think we got a favorable pairing in the SEC Tournament. It’s how you match up against a team and this year we matched up well against Mississippi State. Our speed and quickness was greater than theirs. They had strength though, but I thought we could emphasis our speed and quickness.

“We won that game and then we went into the Tennessee game. I felt we were in both of the UT games during the season and could have won. Going into the tournament they might have been a bit fatigued after pressing all year long and a little bit run down. I thought the fact they would be fresher would hurt, but that would be offset that we didn’t have the opening game jitters. I thought we played extraordinary well that night. We attacked the pressure. We did so many things well.

“We came back the next day (against Kentucky) and again it was a different game, but it was important because it was a power game. Renaldo and Brandon couldn’t bang defensively in the middle of the season and I saw that as early as the Marquette game. But, they began to match up well with the Kentucky big guys and they exposed them offensively by running the court. Someone told me later that for the first time ever Kentucky didn’t advance to the finals after playing in the semi-finals and that’s quite an achievement. I was proud of that.

“We played Florida in the finals. We opened dead cold. I knew they would zone us and I think there were two reasons: we are the only team that can run with them (we might be a little faster) and that you are playing in a fairly big arena and you have to make them shoot them well. We missed like 13 of our first 14 shots. You knew Tarence Kinsey had been listening for four years because he came to the bench at every timeout saying ‘the next shot will go, just keep working’. We worked our way into it and the final was 49-47. I was disappointed because you don’t always have a chance to win the SEC Tournament and we put a lot into it in four days. I was pleased, one shot away and it was blocked and we came up short.

“When you look at the length and breath of our season, the next 24 hours after the SEC Tournament was key for us. I still held out some hope that on the plane that night when I got back we would get an NCAA bid. I knew it was faint, but it depended on the other tournaments that day and I thought it might be possible. I didn’t expect it, but I thought we’d earned some new respect, all be it late. I met with our team for a minute after we found out we didn’t get one when we returned. I think they thought if we didn’t win the tournament we wouldn’t’ get one. That night or early next morning I got in touch with Tarence and Rocky to meet at 2:30 that afternoon because I knew that we didn’t want to play in the NIT without the team being behind it.

“I have five goals when I start a season: 1. winning season first. 2. Win the Conference regular season. 3. Win conference tournament. 4. Make post season 5. Win the postseason tournament.

“When one thing becomes impossible, I quickly discard that and look at what is possible. I threw it out there to them – ‘we can’t go to the NCAA Tournament, but our you satisfied with four days in Nashville and four years at Carolina or do you want to tarnish what has been done in the past few days’. They both wanted to continue and both wanted to play. I told them had to get to our team and talk to our team that way and they did. Sometimes those meetings can be hard, sometimes they can be easy, but this was simple. Brandon Wallace, Tre’ Kelley, Renaldo Balkman, Bryce Sheldon – they all wanted to play. That was half the battle.

“We beat Western Kentucky and then traveled to Florida State. Tre’ Kelley played very well. We won that game twice.

“Two days later we go to Cincinnati. We get there and I promise you I have never been involved in a game where there were more sub-plots. You get up there and you read and hear they are disappointed they aren’t in the NCAA and they are going to show everybody. That’s an advantage for us. They have a coach in limbo with the arena yelling ‘Hire Andy, Fire Nancy’. Thirty minutes before the game Bob Valvano (ESPN analyst) came to the lockerroom to visit and said two Cincinnati starters were not going to play since they are ineligible. So they are really down in numbers now. We are too: Konate is home, Palacios is home and Tisby is home. They are even with us.

“Cincinnati came out on fire. We are holding on for dear life, but are still in at halftime. We lose Renaldo with a bang to the nose at the beginning of the second half, but we win the game and go to New York. Renaldo gets the first of several dunks in front of (Louisville head coach) Rick Pitino and he (Pitino) looks down at me like ‘what in the heck is going on’? And then we won and played at least as good to win the championship.

“As you look back at the season, it truly was a season that had everything in it. When I look at our team I say it’s a team I will never forget. Because of their resolve, their toughness. We did it against a tough schedule – the schedule was eighth in the country. Against a lot of tough opposition. and I give them a lot of credit. The RPI was good at the end and I am particularly proud of Tarence and Rocky for the way they hung in there. I think the future of our team is very bright. I feel really good about our five signees we have coming in. I think we filled our needs. It will be interesting to see how they mesh together.

“Next season we have Clemson coming to us and Kansas as a return from two years ago. Kansas could very well open the year at No. 1. I think that game will be the first weekend of January. I am sure television will be interested in that game. We are still working on some scheduling – the 2 and 4 rule is being worked on (NCAA rule). We know we will be able to play in a tournament every year. I have 24 games scheduled and need thee more or four more, but maybe five more are possible. We will see. Questions?”

Media: Is Renaldo Balkman looking at going to the NBA?

Odom: I have talked to Renaldo on several occasions ad I think he should test the waters. I don’t think he’s ready and I have told him that. But, he is more ready than he was a year ago – strictly basketball – and what he can do really well is readily seen. He can run with anybody, block shots with anybody, score a little better, rebound the ball, but still there are things in his game that he can work on. There are two things when you go out early and they are watching you: you show what you can do and what you cannot do. You can’t have it the way that bests suits you.

Media: What does he need to do to make it? What is the process?

Odom: He needs to work on his perimeter game offensively and defensively. You have to be able to play on the perimeter. He needs to work on his shooting and his perimeter game. I don’t mind telling you that we went ahead and sent his evaluation form into the NBA and we will see what the NBA advisory council says. From a basketball standpoint, we sent that in this morning. That does not mean he is testing the water and is going. We have asked for their opinion and then he will decide with me and his family if he will go forward. He hasn’t talked to anybody about an agent, orally or verbally. In my mind there is nothing to worry about. There is another side to it and that maybe have a bigger barring on it than basketball and that’s where that is. There is nothing definitive. It could be financial, parental, academic. He has pretty good grades, but that can change.

Media: Who do you send the paperwork to?

Odom: It’s a panel of NBA general managers. You send it into them and they evaluate him. They have all the stats. They come back and say, for example, ‘he can be expected to be drafted in the late first, the late second, not to be drafted’ – whatever. It’s only their estimation. I don’t know how long it will take. There is nothing in the paperwork that says how long.

Media: What do you think?

Odom: Renaldo wants to play professional basketball and that’s ok. But, I will tell you this – he loves the University of South Carolina. He told me that after his first year, this is the first place he has ever been where people really care about him. In the end that would be hard for him to pull that plug, but there are financial considerations and there is also that dream that one day he can play professional basketball. The chances of him playing in the NBA next year are probably not good, but his chances of playing professional basketball are extremely good. He knows if he chooses to leave and he doesn’t get drafted, then his future is in someone else’s hands.

“He should make decisions on things in total. How do you balance those? You sober yourself by thinking about those things as well. ‘If I could just make ESPN Sportscenter.’ Those kind of things will cause you to be intoxicated with yourself.

“What are some things that cause you to want to leave? People saying you are the man, etc. I am concerned about that, but I can’t be with people 24 hours a day. At the end of the day Renaldo Balkman will come to me, I know that. That doesn’t mean he will do what I say, but he knows I love him and I care about him. Compliance is going to talk to all of the players today about summer play, etc. – make them aware of the pitfalls. Those type of people are not interested in Renaldo, they are interested in themselves and he needs to understand that. At this point in his career he doesn’t need an agent. He has put himself in the position to be noticed. They can do nothing for him at this point.

Media: How big of a blow would it be to lose Renaldo?

Odom: A great one. He’s a senior, great talent, has a lot of experience and honestly is arguably our most popular player. If it’s the right thing for him, then we would congratulate him and move on. He came to me right away and said ‘let’s talk about it’. We met a number of times and they have been very good meetings.

Media: Have you had your post-season meeting with (USC Athletics Director) Eric Hyman? Will you ask for a contract extension? What about your assistants, are they looking around?

Odom: No meeting yet. I am always interested in what is best for this program and if that includes a contract extension then so be it . That is not my decision. No assistants are looking at other jobs.

Media: A lot has been made about the fact that there was no pep band sent and just two cheerleaders in New York City. What do you make of that? Did you notice?

Odom: Did I notice there were only two cheerleaders and cocky there? Yeah, I noticed that and it did mean something to me. But let’s understand, I have not talked to the administration about that decision and for someone who was affected by that – for no other reason than I got a bag full of letters and emails. I doubt seriously that decision was arrived at lightly or without thoughtful consideration and why it landed on that particular square I can’t be sure, but I doubt seriously it would be an indication of non-support by the administration for our basketball team or because we were in the NIT. We are closing in on the end of the financial year and they have asked everyone in the athletics department to squeeze the belt a little bit and I am willing to do that. We didn’t travel the way we normally traveled and we made some concessions. The worst part about that is that some people might look at that as an administration not thinking the band and cheerleaders are important and I don’t think that is true. They work hard to support our athletic programs and to deny them a chance to be at Madison Square Garden and how that was arrived at that – you will have to ask the administration that.”

Media: Will the NIT run this season help you get to the NCAA Tournament next season?

Odom: There is no guarantee in that. But certainly that is the goal and that is the standard for every Davison I program and it certainly is for the Gamecocks. We have been one time in five years and that is not satisfactory. We have to do a better job of that. There isn’t a big difference in this year and last year. We had some things that didn’t go in our favor and we had to deal with them. We have to measure up to them next year. We can’t go in with the fear that we can’t make it, but that we can make it. We are physically and mentally able to make it.

“Tre’ Kelley is more stable and has more confidence than he had last year. When you look at teams in the NCAA Tournament they all have great guards. On any given night he is tough enough, good enough to play against any guard in the country. Brandon Wallace has improved, has really blossomed. Renaldo Balkman has to improve his consistency and that would certainly improve our chances to be an NCAA Tournament contender. The depth we have with Bryce is better and we hope that Dwayne Day will step up. Hopefully our big guys will be healthy and our five guys we keep having coming in will develop.

“We did not have a bad recruiting class last year. We didn’t get a lot of mileage out of them. Konate got hurt. Bryce gave us the best he had. The x factor was one that nobody saw play and that was Dominique Archie. He was good enough to play as a starter in many games this past year, but Dominique developed as the season went along. When you see that kind of thing in January, you can’t change that. And another reason, when you look at Dominique – you say what position was he? At that point he was strictly a post player (in October). You have Antoine, Keving, Osumane, Brandon and Renaldo – you have five players – he would be sixth. You are not going to waste a freshman when you have all those guys available.”

Statement by South Carolina’s Renaldo Balkman on the NBA

“After talking with my family and Coach Odom, I have decided to submit a request to the NBA advisory panel which evaluates undergraduates interested in entering the NBA Draft before their senior year. My request was submitted to the NBA office today (April 19) and I would hope to hear back from them in the next couple of weeks. With exams approaching I will need to spend all of my time finishing up this semester’s academic work and getting ready for my final exams.”