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ball handling and her ability

  • 18 Feb
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    . -- Bryant McKinnie came out of his stance and
    lowered his shoulder into a practice squad player, causing a crisp thud to
    reverberate in the Miami Dolphins practice bubble. Olivia Nelson-Ododa was
    content building sand castles in the long-jump pit, oblivious to her mom and big
    brother running laps on the track.And then she wasnt.Barefoot, the 8-year-old
    Olivia ditched the sand castles to run with her mom, Heather, and Alonzo, who
    was 15. Of course, she couldnt keep pace.She lapped us more than once, said
    Heather, still amazed by the memory. She just came out of nowhere and passed us
    by. Pretty soon, [Alonzo] got tired, but she kept sprinting.Her brother, by the
    way, is 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds. He just finished his collegiate basketball
    career at the University of Pittsburgh.Their father, Sebastian, who is 6-7?, is
    a native of Kenya who played basketball for Huntington University and for the
    Kenyan national team.We attributed Olivias ability to run fast and barefoot to
    Sebastian being from Kenya, Heather said.Kenya has a proud tradition in
    long-distance running. Sebastian attributed it to Olivia eating Ugali (a
    cornmeal-based dish popular in Kenya and other African nations).Seven years
    after that day on the track, Olivia, 15, is still leaving her competition in the
    dust, although its now on the basketball court.She is in Zaragoza, Spain,
    representing Team USA in the U17 world championships.Playing for Team USA means
    everything to me, Nelson-Ododa said from Spain, her first trip abroad. Ive
    worked really hard for this opportunity. And now that its here, Im so excited.A
    6-foot-4 forward, Nelson-Ododa is the No. 13 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz
    Terrific 25 for the 2018 class. She averaged 16.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.2
    blocks as a sophomore this past season for Winder-Barrow (Winder, Georgia),
    making first-team Class 5A All-State.She can handle the ball like a guard --
    right hand, left hand, between the legs, behind the back, Winder-Barrow coach
    Brandon Thomas said. She has amazing agility and skill level for someone her
    size.That was evident in a state semifinal this past season against Brunswick.
    Nelson-Ododa had 29 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks, leading Winder-Barrow to a
    65-52 win and the first girls basketball state final in the 60-year history of
    the school.The Bulldogs lost the state final 49-48 to powerhouse Southwest
    DeKalb. Nelson-Ododa had 13 points and 19 rebounds. Her team was doomed by 27
    turnovers, but the Bulldogs graduated just one senior from their rotation.This
    was the Bulldogs first trip to the 32-team state tournament in 22 years, and
    Nelson-Ododas carefree spirit helped define their run.On the morning of their
    first game, assistant coach Kimberly Garren went to get Nelson-Ododa, only to
    find her star player shooting 3-pointers in the school gym wearing a Snuggie
    adorned with a bears head.And when Garren laughed and snapped a quick photo, the
    teams third ritual was born.A spaghetti dinner the night before games, new
    T-shirts made up before each round and a goofy photo of Nelson-Ododa (the
    selections include one on a swing, another in a bumper car and another in a
    4-foot-tall dollhouse).Nelson-Ododas mother said she could barely stop laughing
    when she saw the first photo of her daughter in a Snuggie that fit three years
    ago but now only came up to her knees.She said she wanted to be comfortable for
    the three-hour bus ride [to the game], Heather said. For her to be so relaxed
    and self-assured before a biig game was great.ddddddddddddThen again, sports
    have always come easy to Nelson-Ododa -- no need to stress.Track and field was
    never a serious consideration, although she did win an eighth-grade county
    championship, with little practice, in the high jump.When she was 6, she
    attended a University of Georgia womens basketball game with her family. Her
    parents had no idea she was absorbing the game so thoroughly until they found
    out she had memorized all the players names and positions.The next year, she
    asked for season tickets for Christmas.Basketball has always been her passion.
    And although she has that goofy side -- she once used a toe-print instead of a
    fingerprint to access her phone -- Nelson-Ododa is fiercely serious about her
    sport.For six weeks prior to USA Basketball trials in Colorado Springs,
    Nelson-Ododa took her training to new heights. Among other things, she trained
    with an elevation mask that restricted her oxygen intake and prepared her for
    Colorados thin air.Matt Huddleston, her AAU coach, also brought in training
    partner Kelley Cain, a 6-6, 220-pound professional center who played in Poland
    this past season and has appeared in the WNBA, as well as leagues in Italy,
    South Korea and Turkey.Cain, who is 12 years older and 70 pounds heavier than
    Nelson-Ododa, said she was impressed.As good as she is now, she has potential to
    get even better, Cain said. Whenever we showed her something, she picked it up
    in one second.She doesnt realize she is decently strong, and she still hasnt
    figured out how to use her height. I looked her dead in the eyes, and Im 6-6, so
    I think shes taller than 6-4.Nelson-Ododa, who has a 3.8 GPA and aspires to be a
    surgeon, hasnt come up with a list of college finalists yet, but she said she
    likes South Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio State, Georgia Tech and Georgia so
    far.Cain said Nelson-Ododa is one of the sweetest girls you will ever meet, but
    she is competitive, too.I blocked her shot a few times, Cain said. That was to
    help her learn that there are women out there who are her size. But it also
    taught her that if she can score on me, she can score on just about anyone.In
    addition to having her work against Cain, Huddleston also brought in a 5-9,
    ultra-quick male player to give Nelson-Ododa experience at defending a skilled
    perimeter scorer.The young man we brought in to work with her has been on the
    mens practice squad for the [WNBA] Atlanta Dream. He pushed Olivia to work on
    her ball handling and her ability to attack the rim from the perimeter.All of
    that work has paid off. Through Team USAs first five games, Nelson-Ododa is
    averaging 11.6 points and 9.2 rebounds. She is shooting a team-high 56 percent
    from the field. Team USA plays Australia Friday in the semifinals. The medal
    games are scheduled for Saturday.Shes a walking legend in our school, Garren
    said. Shes the best player ever on our campus. Yet shes very humble, and her
    teammates love her.We were in a summer tournament [last week] in South Carolina,
    traveling in a van, and every time I looked up, the girls were Face-timing
    Olivia from Spain.The girls are very happy for Olivia. And Olivia deserves this
    -- she has worked her butt off.
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