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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Olivia Nelson-Ododa commits to UConn

Several hours after Christyn Williams, the No. 1 player in the ESPN's Class of 2018 recruiting rankings, committed to play for the 11-time national championship UConn women's basketball team, the Huskies' Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma admitted, "it's a weird recruiting year."

Thanks to Williams' commitment and the news that Olivia Nelson-Ododa, the No. 5 player in the ESPN rankings and No. 1 by the All-Star Girls Report, would join Williams in a star-studded recruiting class, it is also a special recruiting year for Auriemma and his staff.

Although the 6-foot-4 Nelson-Ododa announced her commitment at a ceremony at Winder-Barrow High School which is located about an hour outside of Atlanta, she called Auriemma Monday to inform her of her intentions.

"I don't think he expected it," Nelson-Ododa said with a laugh. "I was on the speaker phone with my parents and when we called him. We started to talk in the beginning and I said, 'Coach I am going to cut to the chase, I want to play for your program and want to play for UConn.' He took it really well so he was really excited about it."

The 6-foot-4 Nelson-Ododa picked UConn over Duke, Florida State, Georgia, South Carolina and Stanford. It was her recent visit to UConn that sold her on the Huskies.

"My visit when I went up there, I realized how much of a family atmosphere it was," Nelson-Ododa said. "It had a great balance of not only athletics but academics and that is exactly what I was looking for, I am looking forward to developing relationships with the coaches and the entire staff."

Nelson-Ododa was averaging 16.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.7 blocked shots per game before suffering a season-ending knee injury. The most serious aspect of the injury was a dislocated kneecap. She led Winder-Barrow to the Georgia AAAAA final as a sophomore when she averaged 17 points and 3.5 blocked shots per game highlighted by a 29-point game in the state semifinals. Nelson-Ododa, who had 13 points and 19 rebounds in the state final, spearheaded a remarkable run by Winder-Barrow which was making its first state playoff appearance since 1994.

Nelson-Ododa said she has been fully cleared to practice and will play in her first game this weekend as she looks to lead Winder-Barrow to a state title.

"This is the best team we've had in the four years I have been here so it is definitely a lot of expectations on us," Nelson-Ododa said. "Each day we come into practice we are focused and we have the mentality that the ring is our goal so we are working towards that."

Nelson-Ododa, who at one time was the top ranked player in the Class of 2018 by ESPN and is currently the No. 1 player on the All-Star Girls Report rankings, played on U.S. U-17 team along with UConn signee Christyn Williams. Nelson-Ododa was the team's leading scorer with 84 points in seven games (one more than Williams), was second on the team with 66 rebounds and 12 blocked shots.

"She is an amazing player, has such a high basketball IQ and she is somebody I would like to play with," Nelson-Ododa said of Williams. "She is a great person off the court, any time I can talk to her about anything and I hit her up about basketball. I think we have a relationship not just on the court but off the court too. She was excited because she was the only one to commit so far so when I told her, she was really excited and happy to hear that news."

Matt Huddleston, who coached Nelson-Ododa with the powerhouse Georgia Metros AAU program, believes that Nelson-Ododa and Williams could form an impressive duo at the next level.

"Both are extreme competitors, they chose the program partially because you have leadership in the program both from the coach and player standpoint, everything is a competition and they will go there together looking to do something really special."

Nelson also has some familiarity with the game of current UConn freshmen Mikayla Coombs and Megan Walker as her Winder-Barrow squad faced off with Coombs' Wesleyan School and Walker's Monacan High School teams at the 2016 Crescom Bank Holiday Invitational. Nelson-Ododa had 27 points and seven rebounds in Winder-Barrow's 65-60 win while Coombs led Wesleyan with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Walker had 22 points, seven rebounds and four steals in a 54-49 win in the championship game two days later. Nelson-Ododa had 16 points, 22 rebounds and two blocked shots.

"Playing against Mikayla's team, I never played against her today, she is so quick and is a hard person to guard and so is Megan," Nelson-Ododa said. "Playing against them, I think that is a good indicator of how they are going to be able to play at UConn and how we are all going to be able to play together and I am really looking forward to it."

Nelson-Ododa came out of the Georgia Metros AAU program which produced UConn's all-time leading scorer Maya Moore.

Huddleston coached both Moore and Nelson-Ododa with the Metros and sees plenty of similarities in the intangibles they bring to the court as well as their impressive work off the court as Nelson-Ododa has a 4.0 grade-point average.

"She is unique player build wise, her height and athleticism have always been (her strength)," Huddleston said. "I met her several years ago  sat down with her, her parents and myself and kind of set out a plan. Olivia's goal was to try to improve as far as she could. It was all about maximizing her ability. Not everybody is willing to put in the time to perfect the little things. It is hard to find kids with natural gifts who are willing to push themselves that little extra. Maya Moore came through our program and was very lucky to work with her, I think she shares a lot of unique qualities that Maya does when it comes to effort, work ethic and getting to be a team-first person. What she will bring there outside of her athleticism is a willingness to work hard and be a part of what Geno's done a great job and that is building a program that doesn't let anybody slack off."

Huddleston recalls Moore writing down her goals before she became a multiple NCAA, Olympic and WNBA champion and Nelson-Ododa has done the same thing.

"She sat down and we have written out some goals and scripted out what the path was, probably a few days before the injury there was already a plan in place for her, high school, prepare for national team trials," Huddleston said. "She is an extremely optimistic kid, she sought out the most aggressive surgery but also one that would give her the opportunity to come back."

Nelson-Ododa attended Moore's basketball camp in Atlanta a couple years ago.

"I got to see first hand how much of a leader she is and how she is so successful not only in my AAU program but at UConn so she is somebody I definitely like to look up to," Nelson-Ododa said.

Her ties to WNBA players don't end there. Her brother Alonzo, a former player at Richmond and Pittsburgh, married former WNBA first-round pick Dearica Hamby of the San Antonio Stars who will now play in Las Vegas.

"She went through the college recruiting process too and was able to watch some of her games," Nelson-Ododa said. "It is really cool to see the distinction between college basketball and pro level basketball, the difference in those levels so she has been able to give me advice and mentor me through this process."


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