Olivia Nelson-Ododa Using AmeriCup to Grow and Develop Her Game
The youngest player on the roster is gaining valuable experience for her future.
As the only collegian and the youngest player on the USA Basketball AmeriCup Team, Olivia Nelson-Ododa is soaking it all in.
Surrounded by not only some of the best players in the United States but also in the world, the 6-foot-5 sophomore from the University of Connecticut knows she has earned a rare opportunity as she plays this week in the FIBA AmeriCup in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“It's been a great experience so far, just being able to learn from the best players, best pros,” said Nelson-Ododa, who is from Winder, Georgia.
With a spot in next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo already clinched, USA Basketball is using the tournament as an opportunity to look at different combinations of players as it begins to gear up for a run at a seventh straight Olympic gold medal. The USA has sparingly competed in the AmeriCup over the years, with 2019 marking its first tournament since 2007, when it won the gold medal.
Nelson-Ododa had nine points and nine rebounds in the 110-31 tournament-opening win over Paraguay, then followed that up with 10 points and eight rebounds in 14 minutes during an 88-46 win over Colombia. She is averaging 6.3 points and 4.8 rebounds a game through the USA’s first four games in the 10-team tournament as the U.S. heads into the semifinals on Saturday (vs. Puerto Rico at 8 pm EDT on ESPN+).
Playing on a team with the likes of Olympic gold medalists Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles and being coached by Hall of Famer Dawn Staley, the 19-year-old Nelson-Ododa has gotten caught in the moment a few times, realizing the caliber of players she is on the court with.
“Definitely at times, but a lot of the older players are able to help me to do things I have trouble with or don't understand,” she said. “They've been doing a really good job at that.”
As a freshman at UConn, Nelson-Ododa averaged 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in 38 games, including four late-season starts. She finished second on the team with 54 blocks. Nelson-Ododa said she has been paying close attention to Charles, Fowles and Stefanie Dolson to pick up new moves.
“This summer I've been trying to incorporate more post stuff,” she said. “Coming with that is strength and physicality. I think that was the biggest thing working this summer. Now I've just been trying to observe and learn from the post players and how they play and what they do.”
Nelson-Ododa has been a big contributor for USA Basketball in just a few short years. She won a gold medal at the 2018 FIBA Americas U18 Championship, a bronze at the 2016 FIBA Women’s U17 World Cup and a gold this summer in 3x3 at the Pan American Games. But as one of the youngest players on the roster, her role on the Women’s National Team often has her doing more watching more than playing.
“On my other international teams, it's more about the roles I was playing, and I definitely played more,” Nelson-Ododa said. “But in this situation, I think it's just best about just learning as much as I can, and kind of soaking everything up from the people that are playing right now.”
In addition to watching the post players, Nelson-Ododa said the biggest adjustment had been adapting to the speed of the game.
“It's a much quicker pace,” she said. “I'm just seeing the way people move the ball, and when they cut off of things, you know, if a play breaks down, the way people just play basketball. And then, in the post aspect, just the way that the posts are definitely more patient. I mean, they're really stronger and more physical, but definitely more patient with movements and more calculated to what they do.”
Fowles, for one, has taken notice of what Nelson-Ododa has done.
“She's a sponge,” Fowles said. “She is soaking up a lot of information out there. She's going out there and putting it all together on the court. To see that happen at her age is very impressive.”