Hitting the road bright and early this morning (pulled out of my driveway at 6 a.m.) so Icould catch up with UConn's incoming freshmen Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams
at media day festivities, I was hoping it was going to be worth the trip.
Thanks to Nelson-Ododa talking her way into one last attempt to dunk following the end of today's practice session, mission was certainly accomplished.
#UConn incoming freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa throws down dunk at end of @JordanClassic practice pic.twitter.com/qFjWU0VqjB— Jim Fuller (@NHRJimFuller) April 7, 2018
Since I already wrote alengthy feature on Williams
as I made my way to a game in Arkansas the night before UConn played at Memphis in January, I knew I wanted to focus much of my story on Nelson-Ododa, especially with the news of Azura' Stevens declaring for the WNBA Draft.
Nelson-Ododa created quite the stir with her performance in a dunking competition held as part of the lead up for the McDonald's All-American Game late last month. Then after taking a team photo, Nelson-Ododa headed to the other end of the court. Her fellow All-Americans knew what was coming and lined up to watch her throw one day. She missed her first few attempts which is hardly stunning since it had to be a long trip to New York for the Georgia native and she went through an entire 90 minute practice. It looked like there would be no successful dunks before Nelson-Ododa pleaded for and was granted one last attempt before the boys All-Americans would take to the court. Nelson-Ododa delivered an impressive one-handed dunk much to the delight of the other players.
"It is fun whenever they react like that," said Nelson-Ododa, a 6-foot-4 post player out of Winder-Barrow (Ga,) High School. "It is an element I want to be able to add to my game and I want to keep adding that and hopefully use it in a game.
"My first dunk was two summers ago. I was just at the gym messing around and tried dunking. I didn't even expect it but I was like, OK, since then I have been trying to practice. Last year it was difficult with my knee injury but it has also been motivation to keep practicing and get better at it."
Williams was among those celebrating the most when Nelson-Ododa dunked both in Atlanta and today in Brooklyn.
"That was crazy, we got so excited," Williams said. "She is just dunking with ease, that is crazy."
It remains to be seen if Nelson-Ododa dunks in tomorrow's 2:30 p.m. game at the Barclays Center. I've found it more productive to head down to Brooklyn for media day and pass on the coverage of the game but I'm hoping to post stats after tomorrow's game is over.
May 29 is the day when Nelson-Ododa and Williams are planning to arrive at UConn as they begin preparations for their freshmen seasons.
Obviously plenty of eyes will be on Williams, the consensus national high school player of the year but following Azura' Stevens' decision to declare herself eligible for the April 12 WNBA Draft, UConn is lacking in post players so the 6-foot-4 Nelson-Ododa could be a pivotal piece of next year's team.
"I just want to go in, work as hard as I can and be prepared for my career and doing whatever my coaches need me to do," said Nelson-Ododa, who averaged 19 points, 16 rebounds and 6 blocked shots per game to earn the Atlanta Tipoff Club's Miss Georgia Basketball honor.
"It is a new chapter, I am extremely excited. I want to come in, remained focused and work hard for the team."
Nelson-Ododa and Williams will be on different teams tomorrow as they were in the McDonald's All-American Game when Nelson-Ododa narrowly missed a double-double while Williams had 22 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot to earn MVP honors.
They were the top two scorers on the U.S. U17 team competing in the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championships and are looking forward to being teammates one again.
"We talk all the time," Williams said. "The games, we text each other and say, did you see that? So it is just regular things."
They also share a work ethic both in the gym and in the classroom.
"Christyn is one of the hardest workers, one of the best players that I know so it is definitely motivation for me, I can feed off of that," Nelson-Ododa said."
Nelson-Ododa still has some work to do, some of it with her brother Alonzo who is averaging 7 points and 6.3 rebounds in 25 games with Salt Lake City in the NBA's G League.
"They are a running team so that is a big thing is running but regardless, I want to develop my game, however Coach Auriemma and his coaching staff wants to develop me as a player, I am ready to do that," Nelson-Ododa said.
"He works with me daily, he has that experience from college. He works with me on different things and his wisdom from playing in college (is beneficial)."
It wasn't a perfect day. I had a decent video of Nelson-Ododa grabbing a rebound and bringing the ball up the court but I accidently deleted it so it is not part of the video package I put together.
An interesting note about tomorrow's game is the Bob Mackey, the high school coach of UConn legends Sue Bird and Tina Charles, is one of the three coaches for the Away team while James Anderson, who coached Willnett Crockett in high school, is among the coaches for the Home team.