Olivia Nelson-Ododa will enjoy every moment of her time in her home country before the UConn Women’s Basketball Team game at Georgia Tech tonight.
But once the senior speaks at the McCamish Lodge, her attitude will change.
“I’m super grateful that they were able to do this for me, and I’m super excited to be able to come home,” said Nelson-Ododa. “But at the end of the day, it’s a business trip. We have to go and take care of business. But I can’t wait to be there, to be able to see my family, my friends, my high school coach and my old high school teammates.
Nelson-Ododa grew up in Winder, Georgia, about an hour’s drive from Atlanta. She has been chosen three times by All States at Winder Barrow High as well as a McDonald’s All-American selection in 2018.
She thinks she’s a different player and person after four seasons with UConn coach Geno Auriemma and his team.
“The biggest change since I’ve been here is my maturity,” said Nelson-Ododa. “It comes from being in this program and following it under the guidance of the coach and staff. The things they make you do and the discipline they instill in you forces you to grow. Hope people back home can see it in my game and in myself as a person.
With 926 career points, Nelson-Ododa is on track to become UConn’s 50th 1,000-point scorer. With 695 rebounds, she is expected to enter the Top 20 for the Huskies next month. She’s already eighth in blocked shots at 220. As a junior, she was the Big East’s co-defensive player of the year and is a two-time second-team pick of all conferences. Twice she was a finalist for the Lisa Leslie Award as the best center in the country.
On the season, she enters tonight averaging 8.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots and she comes out with her best game of the year – a double-double (14 points, 13 rebounds) against Notre Dame Sunday.
“In practice, the coaches encouraged us to be more aggressive on the defensive end and with offensive rebounds,” said Nelson-Ododa. “They wanted us to crush the boards and have this aggressive mentality. I tried to translate this into the game.
Tonight’s game will be UConn’s first in Georgia in 11 years since the Yellow Jackets hosted the Huskies and Maya Moore for a return game.
Nelson-Ododa’s return fixture was announced in July. Auriemma was assistant to Georgia Tech coach Nell Fortner with the 2000 United States Olympic team.
“It gets more and more difficult because the coaches at other schools are not very cooperative about things like that,” Auriemma said. “Some are really willing to schedule a game for a local kid, especially since it’s us and it will probably be the biggest crowd you have. This benefits Liv, her family, and the friends she grew up with.
“Georgia Tech and Nell have been very accommodating, ‘We’re going to do it. Let’s just find a date. It wasn’t difficult at all. I’m glad it turned out the way he did.
The contract between the schools is for one game.
Prayers for the technical assistant
As UConn grapples with injuries, Georgia Tech has its fair share of adversity.
Associate head coach Tasha Butts announced on Wednesday that she was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer last month. She plans to continue training as much as possible while being treated.
“It wasn’t an easy discovery,” Butts said in a school statement. “At 39, I never thought I would be sitting here facing this disease. But I have full confidence in my doctors, in my faith, in who I am and who I have been taught to be, who is a fighter. I want and hope to be an example and an inspiration to others who might experience the same.
Butts joined Georgia Tech’s coaching staff in 2019 after hiring Fortner. She played in Tennessee for coach Pat Summitt and faced UConn in the 2003 and 2004 national championships.
When Butts can’t be with the Yellow Jackets, Chief of Staff Mickie DeMoss will step in as assistant coach.
Auriemma was delighted that Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve had been named coach of the United States National Team until the 2024 Olympics. Reeve was Auriemma’s United States Staff Assistant in 2016 and Dawn Staley’s staff this year in Tokyo. “It’s been three consecutive Philadelphia coaches for the national team, so how on earth could she be wrong?” said Auriemma. … UConn’s Nelson-Ododa, Dorka Juhasz, Christyn Williams and Evina Westbrook are among the 30 on the Watchlist for the Senior CLASS Award.
For all-sports coverage in JI’s 18-city coverage area, as well as updates on the UConn women’s basketball team and head coach Geno Auriemma, follow Carl Adamec on Twitter: @CarlAdamec, Facebook: Carl Adamec and Instagram: @CarlAdamec.