Team preview: South Carolina
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2006-07 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
South Carolina coach Dave Odom has some advice for Gamecock fans and the media: Don't count out his seemingly undermanned team this season.
Given Odom's history, it might be wise to pay heed. He's forged a long and successful career out of accepting whatever situation he's been dealt and making the most of it.
Take last season for example.
After making a run through the SEC Tournament and bidding to become the first league team since Arkansas in 2000 to win four games in four days, the Gamecocks' title hopes were dashed by Florida, which went on to win the national championship. South Carolina's resume wasn't strong enough to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, so for the second year in a row, the Gamecocks accepted a spot in the NIT.
And for the second year in a row, they won the thing.
The NIT championship was Odom's third -- his Wake Forest team won in 2000 -- but if he had a choice in the matter, he might rather have led the Gamecocks to the Sweet 16. Still, there are worse things a guy can have on his resume.
"My goal and my team's goal always is to make a postseason tournament," Odom said. "By far we prefer the NCAA -- that's everybody's goal. I'm always disappointed if a team of mine does not make the NCAAs. However, one of the things that age and maturity teaches you is that when one thing is no longer possible, you turn your attention to the possible and you don't cling to what is no longer possible. There's a lot to be said for that and for our team to be able to refocus and recharge our batteries and go hard." The Gamecocks definitely got after it in the NIT, beating Western Kentucky, Florida State, Cincinnati, Louisville and Michigan in a 15-day span to repeat their 2005 title run. That, Odom proudly says, was no small accomplishment.
"The NIT can be difficult now that they seed the tournament and you can't buy your way [by guaranteeing big home crowds and gate receipts] through," Odom said. "If you're a lower seed, you go on the road. We won at Florida State and Cincinnati. To me, that's harder than playing first- and second-round NCAA games on a neutral court."
Odom's glass-is-half-full mentality will be put to the test this season. One negative byproduct of the Gamecocks' NIT run was that forward Renaldo Balkman (9.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.7 spg, 1.3 bpg) was able to put his high-energy game on display for the NBA scouts. Based on the feedback he received, he decided to forego his final season of eligibility. The move paid off when he was chosen in the first round by the New York Knicks.
"You want to see guys do well," Odom said of Balkman's departure. "I take a lot of pride in the fact that his game developed while he was here. But losing Renaldo Balkman creates a big hole that we've got to fill."