STORRS - Olivia Nelson-Ododaâ€™s second sport in high school was volleyball.
But with three weeks of practice with coach Geno Auriemma and the UConn womenâ€™s basketball team under her belt, the freshman forward feels like sheâ€™s getting ready for track season.
â€śThis is the most Iâ€™ve ever run before in my life,â€ť Nelson-Ododa said with a smile.
Welcome to UConn.
â€śItâ€™s such a quicker pace than anything Iâ€™ve been used to,â€ť Nelson-Ododa said. â€śThe college pace is high speed, uptempo, and you have to think really quickly.
â€śYou canâ€™t take a play off. But what is really helpful for me is to have experienced upperclassmen who can help me through it whether itâ€™s with the drills or whatever youâ€™re trying to learn.â€ť
With the second-ranked Huskies short on size, the learning curve for Nelson-Ododa is sharp.
The 6-foot-4 native of Winder, Georgia, averaged 19.5 points, 15.9 rebounds, and 5.2 blocked shots in earning McDonaldâ€™s All-America honors as a senior at Winder Barrow High. During the summer she represented her country at the FIBA U-18 Americas Championship and averaged 9.2 points on 50.0 percent shooting from the floor, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.0 blocked shots in 16.5 minutes as Team USA won the gold medal.
She lists former UConn star, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and fellow Georgia native Maya Moore as her favorite player.
As it is for many post players coming into college, progress comes slowly and Nelson-Ododa is taking it one step at a time.
â€śOne thing I think Iâ€™ve improved on is the way that I see the court,â€ť Nelson-Ododa said. â€śThen there are all the little details that Coach Auriemma is always picking on. He always emphasizes the little things.
â€śThe upperclassmen tell me to keep working hard and donâ€™t be afraid to make a mistake. Itâ€™s definitely harder than I thought, but I knew that it would be difficult and thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m here.â€ť
Fortunately for Nelson-Ododa, her older teammates know exactly what sheâ€™s going through.
They were freshmen here at one time, too.
â€śOlivia is learning to play at the pace Coach wants,â€ť senior All-American Katie Lou Samuelson said. â€śFor freshmen, itâ€™s always a struggle to get things quickly and have an impact. But I like what I have seen so far. Iâ€™m going to continue to support them to get them through to the point they can help our team as much as they can.â€ť
Samuelsonâ€™s â€śthemâ€ť includes the Huskiesâ€™ second freshman, guard Christyn Williams.
Nelson-Ododa and Williams are roommates and are their own mini-support group as they transition to college on and off the court.
â€śWeâ€™re definitely helping each other along,â€ť Nelson-Ododa said. â€śWe live together and it seems like weâ€™re together much of the time. We bond as much as we can and sheâ€™s fun to be around.â€ť
Of course, Nelson-Ododa can also call home for advice.
Her father, Sebastian, played basketball at Huntington University and for the Kenyan national team. Her brother, Alonzo, played at the University of Richmond and one year at the University of Pittsburgh as a graduate transfer. Her sister-in-law, Dearica Hamby, was a first-round draft pick after an outstanding career at Wake Forest and plays for the WNBAâ€™s Las Vegas Aces.
â€śI think the adjustment is going well,â€ť Nelson-Ododa said.
UConn plays the first of its two exhibition games Sunday against NAIA Vanguard University at Gampel Pavilion (1 p.m.). The Huskiesâ€™ regular season opener is a week later when they host Ohio State at the XL Center (noon).