By Charles Bennett, Charleston (S.C.) Post & Courier
November 11, 2002 COLUMBIA When South Carolina began fall practice, coach Dave Odom took the players on a tour of the new 18,000-seat arena that will serve as the home of Gamecocks basketball this season. It was an eye-opening experience for the players. Seeing is believing, Odom said. You can read all the hype. You can listen to all the reports of those who have seen it. But it's kind of hard to really get the feel for what it's like and what it's going to mean to you until you actually go in and feel it inside. It was one of those moments where they didn't have the words to express how excited they were. So I've got to tell you, it gave our team a real shot of adrenaline.
Odom wasn't finished. In fact, he was just getting warmed up, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time around him. When the coach is excited, his orations take on an evangelical flare, and thus it was that he shared his vision.
We now have a championship facility, Odom said. We should play like a championship team, similar to the way the building looks. The building has a championship feeling. So I would expect our team to measure up to that. Nothing less than that is going to be acceptable.
Odom didn't specify exactly what sort of championship he was talking about. NCAA? SEC? NIT? Any of the three would be ambitious for the team Odom has assembled for his second season at South Carolina.
While the Gamecocks should have a solid inside game with the return of 6-10 center Tony Kitchings and 6-9 power forward Rolando Howell, perimeter shooting looms as a huge question. It's one the Gamecocks will have to answer if any sort of championship is the goal.
Guard Michael Boynton is the only returning player who made a decent percentage of his three-pointers last season (43.2), but he didn't take enough (16 of 37) to make a significant impact, and his overall shooting percentage was a rather poor 36.5 percent. Boynton may run the point this season, a move Odom hopes will allow the Gamecocks to play 6-7 senior Chuck Eidson on the wing.
Eidson hopes to break out of a shooting slump that basically began during his freshman year. He enters his final season at USC with a career shooting mark of 39 percent, 29.4 from three-point range, but Eidson's other talents make him indispensable. He is the team's best ball-handler and best distributor, which may force Odom to play him extensively at the point. Eidson also has a knack for coming up with steals and likely will set the school career record this season.
I want to play anywhere, as long as I play, Eidson said. I like both. I like being on the wing, coming off screens, curls, getting involved with the offense, but I also like having the ball and moving it around. I'm not worried about my shooting, no matter where I play. I know I can knock them down.
The staff is hoping Chris Warren, a 6-5 juco transfer in his second season, can come on and win the other wing spot. The other possibilities there include a couple of combo forwards, 6-7 sophomore Carlos Powell and incoming juco transfer Kerbrell Brown, 6-8.
Odom is optimistic that South Carolina's perimeter shooting will be improved, even with the loss of guard Jamel Bradley, the team's leading three-point shooter last season.
I don't think we replace that element with one person, Odom said. We replace it maybe by committee, so to speak. We do have some candidates. You'll notice Carlos Powell is much more consistent on his outside shot. Chuck Eidson is by far a much more consistent outside shooter. Chris Warren, when we get him open, will be.
However, the strength of the team is inside, where the early buzz in practice was that Howell has vastly improved his offensive skills. When Odom first arrived, he noted that the basketball seemed foreign to Howell. That began to change late last season, when the Gamecocks were making their run to the NIT final. Howell averaged 14.7 points over the final 10 games.
Rolando Howell has the bit in his mouth, obviously meaning he wants to be good for the right reasons, Odom said. Heretofore it was trying to find a way to help him understand how good he could be. Sometimes you want things more for others than they want it for themselves, and you end up pushing rather than have them self-starting themselves and going on. Rolando Howell right now has jump-started.
We want him to think more about his offense. If you go back and look at the last three weeks of the season, since that time I've noticed a remarkable change, not only in the way he's approached the game of basketball but the way he has taken control of his life. He has a sense of purpose that before he did not seem to have.
Kitchings can be a force inside also, if his weight allows him sufficient minutes. Odom labels Kitchings' conditioning his most challenging situation. He wants the big man's playing weight at approximately 275 pounds, which Kitchings reached a week after practice started. He played at 300 for much of last season.
Tony came out of the womb a challenge from that standpoint, if you will, Odom said. Tony has worked hard to get himself where I feel he should be and where I think he feels he should be.
Marius Petravicius, a 6-10 senior, gives the Gamecocks another big body to use inside. His presence and ability to hustle for 20 minutes a game inspires others and helps protect the other big men from foul trouble.
I expect us to be very good inside, Odom said. I don't expect a team in this league or anybody that we play to dominate us inside. If they do, I'll be very disappointed with that.
Whether the Gamecocks will be able to ride the momentum from their late-season surge to the NIT final remains to be seen, but Odom seems to be counting on it.
All of our returning players, to a person, I feel are much better than they were when we stopped playing back in late March, early April, Odom said. I don't know that I've been around a team that has worked harder in the offseason the right way than this team has. I feel it learned a great lesson last year. I feel it has taken that lesson into the offseason and tried to build on it the right way. We have a team at this point of no egos, a team that thinks about we and not me, and that's something I want us to build on.
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