McDonald’s All-American Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Winder-Barrow

Courtesy of the McDonald's All-American Games.

UConn-bound Olivia Nelson-Ododa is 6-foot-5, athletic and skilled. She stuffed the stat sheet in her senior year by averaging 19 points, 16 rebounds, six blocks, three assists and two steals after coming back from a knee injury suffered in January of her junior season. Her Winder-Barrow Lady Bulldoggs reached the quarterfinals of the state tournament and lost an all-timer to eventual champion Lovejoy, 68-67 in overtime; Nelson-Ododa had a triple-double in that one with 24 points, 21 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.

Nelson-Ododa became a sensation after Monday’s Powerade Jam Fest, at which she threw down a one-handed dunk off one leg and earned perfect 10 scores from all 10 judges. Her head coach at Winder-Barrow, Kimberly Garren, had nothing but praise for Nelson-Ododa when she spoke to Score Atlanta about the budding star.

SCORE ATLANTA: How would you describe Olivia’s game?

KIMBERLY GARREN: Olivia’s an impact player. People see her sheer height and obviously know she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. However, I think her strongest point is that she’s so versatile. You have to guard her from rim to rim. She can handle the ball and pressure in the backcourt. She can pop a three in your face and then she can go body you up inside, and anything in between. So she’s just hard to guard, because offensively, she has every part of the game. And then defensively, her sheer size allows teams to be able to step up pressure, and then if they get beat, knowing they have her behind them, and it’s an awesome thing for the entire team.

SA: What is her biggest strength right now?

KG: I think being able to score, catching the ball away from the basket, and being able to score away from the basket, is her biggest strength right now, catching the ball in the 15-footer range and either being able to shoot or take you to the rim. I think that’s big. She moves so well with the ball in her hand.

SA: What will she continue working on before she gets to UConn?

KG: Obviously someone like here, like most girls, working on strength and agility. And basketball skill-wise, continuting to develop that shot so that she is an automatic three-point shooter as well as an inside person. With the strength and agility comes the speed of picking up the defense, and she’s really just fine-tuning a lot of things that she’s been working on, getting ready for UConn.

SA: What are your favorite memories from coaching her?

KG: We have an awesome relationship. Some of my favorite moments of her and some of my other kids is that extra work they put in. The six a.m.’s, that’s just time you can’t get back. As far as game coaching, her first game back this year, after not seeing her playing for so long and seeing how that weighed on her, and seeing her come out and getting a double-double and seeing some adversity in that game, that was a big breakthrough point right there, just for her emotionally and for our team. That was a fun game, she came out and she popped two threes — she hadn’t shot a basketball in a game in 10 months — and that was a very cool moment. Obviously our last game, she had a triple-double, and being able to pull her off in a timeout, yell at her on the court and her being able to produce what we needed her to produce, that game was also fun.

She’s just one of the kids. And that’s the thing that I loved about her the most, is that she’s just one of the kids. The whole dunking thing, our group text blew up, they were just so excited, and it’s because they knew she could do that. But seeing her dressed in all yellow, in a McDonald’s uniform and dunking on ESPN, it was like, ‘Holy cow, we play basketball with that kid.’ Because she’s just so normal.

SA: How will she fit in right away at UConn, which has made 11 straight Final Fours?

KG: She wanted to go to UConn, she wanted to be challenged. And she didn’t want to go where she knew she would walk in and be the best. So she’s going into a program where she knows she’ll have to earn her time. She’s seen some of the comments that have been made about the freshman class this year, and she knows she’s going to have to show it at practice. She knows that she’s going to be expected to handle the ball, she knows that she’s going to be expected to shoot and really guard people that are potentially smaller than her, obviously, because they are such a big lineup at UConn. When you go play for him, he’s going to make you a better player, I think that’s what she’s so excited about. She’s starting to develop her full game. I really feel like he is going to help her develop the entire game, every part of the game, she’ll be handling the ball better than a point guard. I think that she’ll get up there, she’ll bust her butt, and I think she’ll understand that she’s got to earn her time, but I don’t think she’ll go up there thinking that it’s impossible to get it as a freshman. Geno can turn already amazing players into just phenomenal players.

SA: How do you think she will fit into the McDonald’s All-American game?

KG: I think she’s going to fit in well. She went and played in Spain when she was 15 for USA at the FIBA World Championships. She’s played with some of those kids on that court already, she’s played with some of kids she’ll be playing against, she knows the type of ball that they play, and I’m not sure who’s going to be able to guard her. She’ll fit into the flow very well, she’ll be a leader verbally and work ethic-wise. And the entire (Winder-Barrow) team will be in the stands cheering very loudly for her.

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