South Carolina's retiring coach keys on relationships, not record Print
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Sunday, 09 March 2008 06:37
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 COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -Longtime South Carolina coach Dave Odom had just settled in for the flight home from Auburn this month when his wife reminded him it likely would be his last with the Gamecocks.
``That kind of stunned me a little bit,'' Odom said recently.
These days, Odom goes through many of his long-held routines for the final time. Barring an unexpected run to a Southeastern Conference tournament title, Odom's 22-year college head coaching career will end this week.
``I will think about things,'' Odom said. ``I have truly enjoyed my time and the people I've met and the things that have happened.''
Odom arrived at South Carolina before the 2001-02 season after a stellar run at Wake Forest that included eight NCAA tournament appearances in 12 seasons and the development of stars such as Tim Duncan, Rodney Rogers and Randolph Childress.
He couldn't bring similar success to South Carolina. While his teams did win consecutive NIT titles in 2005 and 2006, they made the NCAA tournament just once.
When this year's club struggled and talk centered on Odom's future, the 65-year-old coach felt the pressure mounting on his young players - and chose to announce his retirement in January. He's focusing more these days on the relationships he's forged than on his record.
``As you get close to the end, one of the things that pops up is you don't think just about the wins and the losses,'' Odom said.
Ask some of the people who know him, and it's clear Odom has had an effect.
``I love Dave Odom,'' said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, Odom's longtime colleague in the Atlantic Coast Conference. ``He is everything that's good about the profession. He has a great love of the game. He's been an outstanding coach and an even better person. I'm lucky he's my friend.''
On his last trip to Kentucky in January, Odom was presented a seat from Rupp Arena. At Florida, Odom was honored before the game and got hearty applause from the O'Connell Center crowd. ``I was touched by that,'' he said.
Odom has set the standard of professionalism for college coaches, Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie said. ``Everybody wants to be like him,'' he said.
Gamecocks reserve Branden Conrad has been around the game his entire life - his father, Bobby, was a point guard on one of Clemson's most successful teams - and said he felt privileged to play for a coach who respects basketball and teaching the way Odom does.
``You can really feel how much he loves the game,'' the younger Conrad said. ``He really is the classiest, especially today when it's filled with so much corruption.''
Still, even Odom understands his critics' complaints when it comes to the hard numbers.
The Gamecocks have been regular NIT participants, going three times in Odom's first five seasons. While temporarily mollified with the back-to-back titles, several vocal fans were angry the team missed out on the NCAA tournament.
Then there's Odom's failure to win in the SEC. His best conference mark was 8-8 in 2003-04 (also South Carolina's only NCAA tournament trip). The lack of conference victories are ``the only disappointment I have,'' Odom said. ``That's my only regret.''
This year has been much of the same. Odom had strong hopes that his club, featuring standout transfers Devan Downey from Cincinnati and Zam Fredrick from Georgia Tech, would rebound from a season ago when the Gamecocks finished 14-16 and were just 4-12 in SEC play.
Instead, South Carolina dropped several close games early. It lost 63-61 to North Carolina State and then 69-68 a day later to George Mason. The Gamecocks surrendered a 20-point lead in a loss to Baylor, then watched UNC Asheville of the mid-major Big South Conference score the last 10 points of the game in a 61-58 upset.
Soon after, Odom decided to end the speculation about his return, feeling the decision would change the dialogue among fans from talk of Odom's firing to support for the young Gamecocks.
``The fans have been very good to me by and large,'' he said. ``Those that are dissatisfied are more vocal and the ones you hear the most. For those who have been vocal with their dissent, the number of people who have called, written and spoken to me and said nice things - it's double the negative contacts I get.''
He still enjoys working with young people, but isn't sure what his next move will be.
``I'll see what's out there. But that doesn't necessarily mean I'll coach again,'' Odom said. ``The gymnasium's where it's at.''
On Wednesday night, after the Gamecocks (13-16, 5-10) fell to Kentucky 71-63 in Odom's last game at the Colonial Center, the coach looked around the court when it was over to glimpse the faces with which he's grown familiar the past seven years.
``When you've done your best, things don't always turn out the way you want,'' Odom said earlier in the week. ``They can from a personal standpoint if you do it the way you feel is right, you treat people right and they in turn treat you right. And that has happened.''

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