Originally published on April 11, 2001
If first impressions are lasting, Dave Odom probably made some friends when he addressed members of the USC basketball team Tuesday shortly before being introduced as the Gamecocks' basketball coach.
The former Wake Forest coach told members of the media and USC fans at a news conference that he had asked the players to give him a chance to be their friend first, then give him a chance to be their coach. His message was well-received said Jamel Bradley, one of two rising seniors USC officials made available to the media Tuesday.
"When he said that, something inside of me felt really funny," Bradley said. "I said, 'You know, I think we've found the right guy.' There's something inside of me that says we're going to go in the right direction next year.
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"I think he's going to get something out of each and every player, and that's what we're waiting for."
Bradley led the Gamecocks last season in scoring (11.5 points per game) and 3-point shooting by making 76 of 214 attempts for a .355 average. He also was the team's best free-throw shooter with a .758 percentage.
Point guard Aaron Lucas, a standout at Lower Richland High when he was recruited to USC, met Odom when he was being courted by Wake Forest. He said he was glad the other players got to meet him face to face Tuesday prior to the news conference.
"I think he's a great teacher and a great student of the game," Lucas said. "And that's what you want in any program. I think he has done a great job at Wake Forest. He mentioned that this is a good opportunity for him, but I think it's a great opportunity for this team.
"And I think we're going to make the most of it. I think this is a chance for this team to take a step forward."
Lucas was second last season in scoring with a 10.3 average and led the team in assists with 114, an average of 3.9.
Bradley said the players, for the most part, have been patient through the monthlong search process by athletics director Mike McGee, but admitted that there were times when they wondered what was going on when so many names of candidates kept appearing in print and on television.
But he endorsed McGee's selection.
"We feel like Mike McGee did a good job of getting the right coach in here," Bradley said. "After looking at his 12 seasons at Wake Forest, we feel like we've got a great future ahead of us.
"I liked what he said today. I think he sensed a little frustration on our part, but he made us feel very comfortable in the meeting. I'm really anxious to have him as our coach. I want to get this basketball thing going again.
"I'm just happy."
Lucas termed it a long process for the players but said that probably would have been the case at just about any school in the country. He said that, at times, there was a feeling of frustration on the players' part, and a natural curiosity as to who their new coach would be.
But the outcome, he says, was worth the wait.
"We just wanted a coach who was very qualified, one who could come in and prove himself as a winner," he said.
"Somebody who would have a good rapport with the team. We kept hearing names and kept wondering who was coming. Mostly, we were just ready for somebody to come to South Carolina and start the process.
"Once the outcome (was known), I think we all appreciated it and accepted it. We're all ready to make a big opportunity out of this occasion."
After the firing of former head coach Eddie Fogler, four players indicated that they might transfer: Chuck Eidson, who missed most of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and returned to his hometown of Charleston to rehab the injury; Rolando Howell, who has said he might consider opting for the NBA Draft; Travis Kraft, who also missed most of the season with an injury; and Calvin Clemmons, who saw only limited playing time.
None of the players could be reached for comment. When asked if her son was still considering leaving USC, Howell's mother, Debra, said "no comment."
Lucas said he expected most, if not all, of last year's players back next season.
"I think we're ready for coach Odom to set the tone for this team," he said. "We're ready to follow (in his footsteps)."