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Oct. 25, 2006

USC’s head basketball coach Dave Odom met with the media on Wednesday to talk about the pre-season. The following are some of his comments.

You open this year on Friday, Nov. 10 vs. S.C. State. The schedule nation-wide seems to be opening earlier this season – why?

The certification of special events, like the Guardians Classic, was becoming a problem and difficult to control them. The NCAA, and I think wisely, did away with certification process and expanded the number of games you were able to play and gave the schools a choice. You could play in one of these special events and end up playing as many as 30 games or you could not play in a special event and play 29 games. We chose to play 29 games this year. In order to accomplish all that, they had to give you a week or two more to get all the games in. It makes sense and it’s a good rule.

You have practiced quite a bit since Hardwood Hoopla. What do you see as some of the strengths of the team this year?

We are shooting the ball better and more consistently from the outside. We seem to be handling the ball pretty well although we haven’t faced pressure defenses from other teams, but we are respecting the basketball and playing aggressively. I think our rebounding is better than I thought it would be. Our big post players, Ousmane and Mitchell, are coming along at a nice pace. Ousmane is more ready to play. Mitchell has made up some ground and had a very good week of practice. As is true with most teams, we were slowed somewhat last week because of the fatigue, bumps and bruises that you incur in the first week of practice, but we seem to have come out of that. We need to stay healthy, particularily our key players like Tre’ and Brandon.

We spent a lot of time on defense the last two days and we’ve made strides there. Our weekend practice is going to be really important because we have two scrimmages next week and we want to play well.

What style of play will you play from the beginning? Will it look different once your players get more experience as the team gets ready for SEC play?

We always try to press and run, covering as much of the floor as we possible can. As you get further into the season you learn from doing what you are capable of doing. I think speed-wise and comfort-wise we are fine, we just need to find what we are comfortable doing as the season progresses. In practice, we will try to run as much as we can and press and much as we can.

Because your team is young, are you simplifying your playbook?

No. I think we go ahead. As long as you’ve got Tre’ and Brandon, who are experienced and can handle it. You ask your team to catch up to them and not handicap them with that. At least not as this point. But when substitutions are made, like Ousmane at the post and Dominique at the wing – you wouldn’t play quite as quick or with so much speed, but more with power. But that’s more personal and not experiences.

You’ve said Tre’ Kelley is one of the most dominant guards in the country. He made the SEC Coaches preseason team. How good are the players in the SEC?

I think you look at both teams – first and second team. I look at the SEC preseason top 16 (eight first, eight second) and you compare it with other top leagues in the country’s pre-season teams and there is no comparison. The SEC is clearly the most talented league this year even though we incurred some really difficult losses last year personal wise. Some good seniors and players like Renaldo, who went in the NBA draft in the first round. This league is stocked with a multitude of great players and fine teams. Kentucky only has one guy on the first two teams so that tells you how strong the other teams are.

Last year’s leading rebounder Renaldo Balkman was drafted in the first round by the NBA’s Knicks and last season’s leading scorer Tarence Kinsey looks like he might make the Memphis Grizzlies roster after signing a free agent contract in July. To put two players in the NBA off last year’s team – what does that say about the state of your program? You proud of everything they are accomplishing?

What you want are your players to reach goals they set for themselves beyond South Carolina and with Renaldo Balkman and Tarence Kinsey, I couldn’t be more proud of their early achievements. They have a lot of work to do at the professional level, but we put them into position to have the opportunity to succeed. It speaks very well of them and the work they did at South Carolina. They were a pleasure to coach and took coaching very well, to heart. They worked on the things we talked about and they were great team players. They learned their roles well and how to execute their talents as it relates to the accomplishments of their team. You have to give the coaching staff here a lot of credit for what they did to help them. It’s a great lesson for everyone – take your time over the course of three-four years in college, working with a certain level of talent and you have a chance to have an opportunity post-college. Some players dream about the NBA and they are living that dream now. I have often said wherever they go, they take the Gamecocks with them, and so I am really pulling for them.