COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina coach Dave Odom doesn't want his team stuck in the past, no matter how well the Gamecocks played to end the season.
Sure, Odom hopes the confidence and poise they developed from reaching the Southeastern Conference tournament semis and the NIT finals carry into this year. But he wants them to move far beyond their old achievements.
"The goal," says Odom, "is for them to separate themselves from last year. "
If the Gamecocks do, Odom and his players think a very special season lies ahead.
At one of the first team meetings of the semester, Odom wrote on the chalk board, "No limits."
When you relive last year and use it as a model - South Carolina played most impressively at the end when it won six of its final eight games - you sort of place a cap on what you expect from players, Odom explains.
"We did play well in the SEC and the NIT," said Chuck Eidson, South Carolina's probable point guard starter. "But it still wasn't where we wanted to be. We want to be in the NCAA tournament."
Make no mistake, Odom says valuable lessons came out of his inaugural 22-15 season - lessons that have shown up through the offseason and in practice since Saturday's start:
- Forward Rolando Howell has looked strong in increasing his offensive production.
- Odom has now embraced the idea that the 6-foot-7 Eidson can skillfully run his attack.
- The coach rediscovered that the profession still has meaning in his life.
"It was such a fun year for me," said Odom, a smile on his face.
Less fun this season might be replacing his two key seniors from a year ago, guards Aaron Lucas and Jamel Bradley. The two combined for just under 24 points a game in 2002. Lucas left as the Gamecocks all-time leader in games played, while Bradley became the SEC's career leader in 3-pointers made.
Odom doesn't see anyone filling either's shoes. He says Bradley's long-ball ability will likely be made up through a committee of outside shooters including Eidson, Chris Warren and newcomers like guard Jarod Gerald.
Lucas' vocal leadership, speed and defensive ferocity can't be made up by anyone at this point, Odom said. "I miss hearing Aaron's voice," the coach says wistfully.
Where South Carolina can dominate is under the basket.
Howell averaged nearly 15 points his last nine games, getting 20 points and 15 rebounds in the NIT finals loss to Memphis this past spring.
Marius Petravicius, 6-10, and Tony Kitchings, 6-10, are seniors who have shown dominating abilities through the years.
Kitchings' condition and health is Odom's biggest concern right now. "I don't think anybody who's covered Carolina basketball would say that's any kind of surprise," Odom said.
Kitchings has yet to practice, according to the coach, because in trying to reach a mandated playing weight in time for drills, the senior center severely pulled a hamstring. It is not known when Kitchings, listed at 260 pounds in preseason guides, will work out.
If Howell can dominate the way Odom thinks, it might not matter who's out there with him. Howell, a junior, took large steps forward since last year to improve his work ethic and take charge of his life and career, Odom said.
Howell said he thought it was time to grow up and attempt to live up the enormous potential former South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler saw when recruiting Howell three years ago. Howell said his play at the end of the year was a revelation and an inspiration for him this offseason.
"This was the time for me to buckle down and take a more serious approach about the game," Howell said. "That's what I'm doing right now."
That's one part of last year Odom and the Gamecocks are happy to see returning this season.
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