South Carolina tries to unify program through celebration

COLUMBIA S.C.
Kevin Joyce thrilled fans at the old Carolina Coliseum for
three seasons with his tenacious play and high-scoring style, finishing as one
of the greatest to take the court at South Carolina.

His No. 43 jersey was retired and he remains a revered name
among Gamecock supporters. However, Joyce hadn’t seen the Gamecocks’ modern,
5-year-old Colonial Center
until walking in there this past Tuesday.

And that’s an example, coach Dave Odom says with emphasis,
why the Gamecocks’ plan to honor 100 years of basketball is so crucial to the
program’s future.

Odom has long believed honoring a program’s past gives
current players a sense of pride and a connection to something bigger than
themselves.

At South Carolina, the task has been as daunting as making
the NCAA tournament, which Odom’s Gamecocks have done just once in six season.

“I was struck by the separation that existed, at least
from the surface, between the different generations of basketball
players,” the coach said. “It was almost cavernous.”

For decades, Odom explained, Gamecock players have split
along generational lines, most notably those who played during the late Frank
McGuire’s 16 seasons from 1965-80 generally considered the program’s
“Golden Age” and those who did not.

A small, joyous group of fans greeted Joyce and his former
McGuire-era teammate, John Roche, in the arena’s atrium.

The season-long celebration of South Carolina basketball the
team debuted Oct. 30, 1908,
with a 21-19 loss to Furman will culminate Feb. 23 at a home game against
Mississippi State.

“All of us need to come together as a family and I
think we’re on our way of doing that,” said BJ McKie, South Carolina’s
all-time leading scorer with 2,119 points.

Roche smiled as he stood beside a picture of himself in his
No. 11 uniform. It was also his first time at the Colonial Center.

“Kevin made reference to the fact that life goes on,
people go on to other things, other interests,” Roche said.

Roche thought several factors led to the separations.

Changing coaches, such as when McGuire was let go 27 years
ago, can lead to bad feelings among players.

Also, the Gamecocks went through several rebuilding periods
since Roche last played in 1971 they’ve made only three NCAA tournament
appearances (1997, 1998 and 2004) since McGuire’s teams went to the postseason
four straight seasons from 1971-74. And the school has shifted conference
affiliations three times since stepping out of the ACC after Roche left.

Players should overcome those things, McKie said. “I
think just because there’s a coaching change, there shouldn’t be gaps between
groups,” he said. “I think everybody should remain a family because
that’s what we are.”

Joyce, born in Bayside, N.Y., was part of McGuire’s staff
near the end of his tenure and remembers the pressure on the old coach to
surrender his fading program.

“It got very ugly with coach McGuire in his last years,
very political,” Joyce said. “I don’t think that helped out. If you
remember those years, it was nasty.”

Some fans speculated that the tone of McGuire’s departure
was why Roche, twice the ACC player of the year, had kept away from his
university.

Not so, said Roche, whose jersey also was retired. “I
had no negative feelings about that situation whatsoever,” the New York
native said.

His law practice in Denver kept Roche occupied and made it
difficult to routinely return to South Carolina. He’d last come to campus about
a decade ago, Roche said, when Eddie Fogler was coach.

Still, Odom recognized the schism almost immediately after
taking the job in 2001. But healing it was harder than he imagined. “Not
because people had resisted, just because it’s hard to get people to change
what had been,” he said. “We’d been going along a certain path for so
long, it was hard to get people to open up to something new.”

Things began to change, Odom said, with a letterman’s
weekend two years ago. The response was so positive, Odom and others in the
athletic department thought more ceremonies could bring stars like Joyce and
Roche back among fans who love them.

They could be right. Other former Gamecocks from all eras
like John Ribock (69-71), NCAA scoring champ Zam Fredrick (78-81), Carey Rich
(93-95) and Ryan Stack (95-98) attended the ceremonies to show support for the
program.

“We just need to start coming together as a group,”
said McKie, who plays professionally in Europe. “We’re going to get it
back to where it needs to be.”


– Associated Press



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