|South Carolina coach heads into retirement after losing final game|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 14 March 2008 15:26|
But he knew it was time to go.
South Carolina nearly pulled off a monumental upset to extend Odom's 22-year career as a college head coach, but Chris Lofton hit a 3-pointer with 11.4 seconds remaining to give No. 4 Tennessee an 89-87 victory in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The Gamecocks, routed twice by Tennessee during the regular season, clearly played with added urgency for their retiring coach. It wasn't quite enough against the powerful Vols, who finished nine games ahead of South Carolina in the SEC East standings.
After the buzzer, Odom took his usual walk in front of the scoring table, shaking hands with the coaches and players from the opposing team. He then headed toward the locker room, walking slowly with his head down. He stopped at the edge of the court, politely letting a few Vols players walk in front of him, but also wanting to soak it all in one final time.
``I snuck a last look at all the people, all the players, all the jerseys,'' Odom said. ``I looked for my wife, but I couldn't find her.''
Before coming to South Carolina in 2001, Odom spent a dozen years at Wake Forest. He coached Tim Duncan and took the Demon Deacons to the NCAA tournament eight times, coming up one game short of the Final Four in 1996 and reaching the Sweet 16 two other years.
But he never had that sort of success with the Gamecocks. Odom's teams reached the NCAA's only once in seven seasons, a one-and-done appearance in 2004, though the Gamecocks did claim back-to-back titles in the National Invitation Tournament. His last two teams didn't even qualify for the NIT, finishing with two of the six losing seasons he had as a head coach.
In January, the 65-year-old Odom announced he would retire at the end of the year. The Gamecocks gave him a reprieve by beating LSU in the opening round of the SEC tournament, but Tennessee finished off his career.
Odom's last team was 14-18, leaving him with a record of 406-278 in a career that also included three years at East Carolina. His South Carolina mark was 128-104.
``I go away with absolutely no regrets,'' he said. ``I feel blessed. I don't look back and say, 'If I had done this' or 'If I had done that.' It's been quite a ride.''
While Odom never challenged the SEC's dominant teams, going 41-71 and failing to post a winning record in conference play, he will be remembered as one of the sport's most gracious coaches. Spurning the boorish behavior that many in his profession are noted for, he was always polite with the media and treated his players like they were his own kids.
``What a terrific job he's done,'' Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said.
Odom certainly had no complaints about the way his team played in its final game. The Gamecocks had a couple of chances to win or at least force overtime, but Devan Downey came up short on a 3-pointer and, after the rebound went out of bounds off a Tennessee player, South Carolina failed to get off another shot before the horn sounded.
``Of course, I'm disappointed that we lost,'' guard Zam Fredrick said. ``But the effort and the courage we showed out there today, that's something for us to grow on.''
They'll have to grow without Odom. He isn't sure what the future holds, though he'd like stay involved with college basketball in some capacity.
``I have no concrete plans right now,'' he said. ``But I can't imagine leaving the game completely. If an advisory or consulting opportunity came along, that's something I would consider.''
Asked to sum up his career, Odom searched for the right word.
``I don't think I can do it in one word,'' he said. ``I guess 'satisfying' would be it. It was absolutely satisfying.''