UF, USC coaches have mutual respect


UF's Billy Donovan, left, and South Carolina's Dave Odom, right, have much respect for each other.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun/Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 at 10:28 p.m.

When Florida made the first of its two straight national title runs in 2006, Florida coach Billy Donovan received support from a conference ally.

Facts

Tonight's game

Who: Florida vs. South Carolina
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Colonial Center (18,000), Columbia, S.C.
On Tv: SUN
On Radio: AM-850

1. Carolina's speed
Behind the talented backcourt of transfers Devan Downey (Cincinnati) and Zam Fredrick (Georgia Tech), the Gamecocks are relying heavily on their speed in transition and the 3-point shot to generate offense. "I have great respect for Chris Warren’s speed from Ole Miss, but I think Downey might be the fastest guy in our league," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. South Carolina also is quick defensively, forcing 7.8 steals and 14.8 turnovers per game.

2. UF's frontcourt
This should be a game where the Gators dominate inside. Donovan will be looking for consistency from sophomore center Marreese Speights following the best conference game of his career (20 points, eight rebounds, four blocked shots against Kentucky.) South Carolina ranks next-to-last in the SEC in rebounding margin at minus-2.8. The Gamecocks had success with a smaller lineup in an upset win at Arkansas, but look for South Carolina coach Dave Odom to turn to freshman post players Mike Holmes (6-7, 230 pounds) and Sam Muldrow (6-9, 216) if Florida gives South Carolina early problems on the glass.

3. The 3-point line
South Carolina (39.9 percent) and Florida (38.9 percent) rank second and third, respectively, in 3-point field goal percentage. Both teams are making exactly eight 3s per game. Both teams also defend the 3-point line well (Florida, fourth in the SEC, at 31.0 percent 3-point defense, South Carolina sixth at 32.2 percent 3-point defense.) The Gators have had the most success when they've established the inside game early and worked their way out.

4. Lucas's health
Florida freshman point guard Jai Lucas is expected to play, but still will likely be hobbled with a hyper-extended knee. Donovan felt like he may have played Lucas too many minutes last Saturday against Kentucky. Look for Florida to feature more two-guard looks to give Lucas some more breathers. Sophomore forward Jonathan Mitchell and freshman forward Chandler Parsons could fill in, making Florida bigger across the frontline.

5. Responding on the road
Florida is coming off an emotional overtime win Saturday at home against Kentucky. South Carolina has had a full week of rest and practice, but coach Dave Odom dropped a bombshell last Friday when he announced he was retiring at the end of the season. Emotions should be high on both sides, "I think that's a part of this league, there's a lot of ups and downs, a lot of emotion," Donovan said.

At the 2006 Final Four in Indianapolis, Ind., South Carolina coach Dave Odom sent Donovan hand-written letters of encouragement.

Odom, 65, announced last Friday that he will retire at the end of the season. South Carolina will play its first game since the announcement tonight when it hosts Florida at the Colonial Center.

"Basketball is losing a great guy, a great man," Donovan said.

"I just hope he's happy."

Donovan said his relationship with Odom goes back more than 20 years. When Donovan worked as a camp counselor at Five Star Basketball Camps during the summers between his college seasons at Providence, Odom was an assistant coach at Virginia.

"Probably the greatest complement I can give him is the fact that if any of my boys were ever good enough to play at this level, I’d want them to play for a guy like Dave Odom," Donovan said. "He's involved in our rules committee and just different things. He's always gone out of his way for the betterment of our league. He's always tried to be a great ambassador to our league."

Odom also shares strong ties with Florida associate coach Larry Shyatt. Shyatt's oldest son, Jeremy, served as a volunteer assistant under Odom from 2003-05. Shyatt also coached against Odom at state-rival Clemson from 2001-03.

"I have great affinity for Billy, for Larry Shyatt, great respect for them as coaches," Odom said. "They work hard and do things the right way."

Odom insisted at his news conference that he wasn't pressured to resign. South Carolina is 123-94 in Odom's seven seasons at the helm, with one NCAA Tournament appearance and two NIT Championships.

That makes the timing of the announcement curious. South Carolina is off to a 9-8 start, with home non-conference losses to USC, Baylor and UNC-Ashville. After a 24-point loss at home to Tennessee, South Carolina responded with a 70-66 upset last week at Arkansas.

Odom will receive a $320,000 buyout on his contract, paid over the next two seasons.

"I had pretty much made up my mind this was going to be my last year," Odom said. "The fans were in limbo along with our team. More attention was being focused on me than I was comfortable with. I just felt if I could take myself out of the equation, we've got 13 games left, plus the SEC Tournament, our fans could pour all of their support and encouragement on our team, where it belongs."

Odom insists that despite the fact he's stepping down, he'll continue to provide minutes to his younger players to benefit the future of the program. Freshmen forwards Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow have been promising enough to crack the South Carolina starting lineup, but both are currently coming off the bench.

South Carolina sophomore guard Devan Downey, a transfer from Cincinnati, ranks second in the SEC in scoring at 19.6 points per game and third in the league in assists at 5.1 per game. Zam Fredrick, a junior who transferred from Georgia Tech, is scoring 15.9 points per game, giving the Gamecocks a potent one-two punch in the

backcourt.

"With them winning on the road at Arkansas and now having a week off to prepare for us and everything that has happened to Dave in his first game after this announcement, there is going to be a lot of emotion in the game," Donovan said.

Florida is coming off an emotional overtime win against Kentucky to improve to a surprise 16-3 start and 3-1 start in SEC play. Freshman Florida point guard Jai Lucas is questionable for the game with a hyper-extended knee. Lucas practiced Tuesday and will be re-evaluated this morning to see how his knee responds.

"The more I look at Florida on film, the harder and more together they are playing," Odom said. "At this point, I would say they are the fastest improving team in the country. Their style is good for them and they have the most skilled players in our league."

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