The UConn women’s basketball team lost two six-footers this year with the graduation of Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, leaving questions about who will be the dominant post presence on the 2019-20 squad.
It is going to be sophomore Olivia Nelson-Ododa who will have to take on a much larger role, and there is potential for her to determine the fate of this year’s team.
“She’s got an opportunity to really have a huge impact on what happens to our team this season,” head coach Geno Auriemma said on Tuesday. “You may say, Crystal and some of the other guys and how important they are, and obviously they are, but we do have other guards besides Crystal. Even though Crystal is 100% key, we don’t another 6-foot-5 kid. So you say who’s absolutely critical? Liv. And I think she knows that. I let her know that, every minute of every day.”
Nelson-Ododa is three inches taller than anyone else on the team and, of those who played at least 12 minutes per game last season, she has them by four inches.
She acknowledged the pressure put on her, being the main true big on the roster and the expectations the coaches have for her.
“There’s always going to be pressure there, I always put pressure on myself, so coming from the coaches, I think it’s good,” Nelson-Ododa said. “They expect a lot from me, and I just want to try and reach up to that.”
However, despite the pressure, she is ready for and excited about the role she is going to take on.
“I definitely think I’ll be okay with that role, it’s something that I’ve been wanting to take on,” Nelson-Ododa said. “I put pressure on myself to reach the high expectations that are set from the coaches and the coaching staff, so I’m looking forward to taking on that role.”
It is no secret, not even to Auriemma, that this season will be one with more questions around it than in previous years.
“These two weeks I’ve had to do more than I’ve done in six years, and this is not an exaggeration,” Auriemma said. “Our staff hasn’t had to work at what we’re doing right now in the last six years. … It’s taken a lot of time and a lot of effort, and that’s what’s different about it.
“Don’t get me wrong, they’ve been great, the players have been great, it’s just really, really, really time-consuming, not that we’re complaining – that’s what we’re supposed to do,” Auriemma continued. “But if you ask what’s the biggest difference, things that used to take 15 minutes take half-an-hour, things that used to take half-an-hour take an hour, things that used to take one day take two days.”
If UConn wants to have the success this program has become accustomed to, it will need Nelson-Ododa to step up and become the dominant presence on the floor that she has the potential to be.
Jorge Eckardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at Jorge.firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @jorge_eckardt31