COLUMBIA - Dave Odom was back in the university of South Carolina's basketball practice facility late one recent morning, but the scene was different from the last time most people saw him there.
A few months after he was named the Gamecocks basketball coach and addressed the media and hundreds of fans from a podium, Odom replaced the tie around his neck with a whistle.
The formal nature of his press conference was long gone, in its place the bounce and bustle of the 58-year-old's summer basketball camp. As hordes of children dribbled around him and shot over him, Odom paced the court and chatted on a cell phone.
If Odom still is suffering pangs of homesickness after a difficult move from Wake Forest, the school he coached for 12 years before coming here, he hides it well.
"When you separate yourself from the emotion, it was really not a difficult decision to make," Odom said of leaving Wake Forest, where he won 240 games and led the Demon Deacons to 11 straight postseason appearances. "This was the right thing to do professionally. Emotionally, it was hard. The thing that I am quickly learning is that the emotional void of leaving Wake Forest and Winston-Salem (N.C.) is going to be rapidly filled with wonderful people here in the state and at the university.
"I know that to be true already."
Odom was fresh off his indoctrination to all things Gamecock, having traversed the state on the summer booster club circuit. It didn't take much time in the hot banquet halls and gymnasiums for him to become "blown away" by the energy and enthusiasm of the school's followers.
Odom recalled his first conversation with third-year football coach Lou Holtz - otherwise known as a miracle worker after leading South Carolina to an 8-4 record and a bowl victory in 2000. The Gamecocks were 0-11 the year before.
Odom: "Tell me the one thing I need to know to be successful here at South Carolina."'
Holtz: "David, believe me. I've been at plenty of universities, and without fear of contradiction, you will find the Gamecock fans to be the most loyal, by far, of any fans you've been around."
Odom: "Why do you say that?"
Holtz: "Well, we were 0-11 and I didn't get one bad letter."
Odom: "Does that mean I've got to go 0-30 before I find that out?"
Holtz: "Don't try it. Just take my word for it."
Odom probably won't have to worry about going winless this season. Former Gamecocks coach Eddie Fogler, who resigned March 12 after eight seasons at South Carolina, appears to have left a team with the potential to succeed in the Southeastern Conference.
The Gamecocks return a few talented players in forward Rolando Howell, swingman Chuck Eidson and center Tony Kitchings, a former South Aiken standout.
Odom said he is comfortable with what he inherited and won't make any drastic changes.
"I try to sit back and evaluate the way things are being done and how effective they are and how comfortable I am with that style," he said. "Obviously, there will be some changes. But by and large, we're very fortunate to have good people to work with.
"Coach Fogler and his staff had done a very good job here. The foundation is good. He did a good job with getting things started. He and I are good friends, and he's been very helpful to me."
Odom and his wife, Lynn, won't feel completely at home in Columbia until they have a home. They were scheduled to move into a new house this month and were living in a hotel a few blocks away from Five Points, an area popular for its night life.
"You know you've been at a hotel a long time when you know the help by first name," Odom said. "Scott, Larry, Danny, Jennifer, Diane - I know them all."
Odom also has become well-versed on the hierarchy of Gamecocks sports. It took only a few minutes for him to learn that football is top priority here. At the press conference announcing Odom's hiring, athletics director Mike McGee goofed and introduced Odom as "the new head football coach."
Fogler might have thrown a tantrum and stormed out of the gym, but Odom smiled and took McGee's gaffe in good humor. And though the faithful seem constantly consumed with Holtz and football, Odom reminds you they're not exactly indifferent toward basketball.
"Everybody says it's a football school and a football state, and it very well may be," Odom said. "But there is no doubt that there's a segment of Gamecock fans who dearly love basketball."
At times, the program has given its fans reason to cheer; Frank McGuire won here consistently in the 1960s and '70s, and Fogler succeeded briefly before slipping into mediocrity.
When the Gamecocks have won, the fans have come. Odom's job is making sure they come and stay.
"Those people love football," Odom said. "But they have a place in their hearts for basketball, too."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com
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