Odom lives up to billing

Thursday, November 19, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - His legend has grown almost as quickly as Lamar Odom himself. Is he 6-foot-9, 6-10, 6-11? It's hard to say unless you're the one with the measuring tape, but, at the rate approximations of his height are growing, he'll probably be 7-5 in a month.

There are other questions about Odom that are nearly as difficult to answer. Is he a freshman or sophomore? (This is his first season of Division I basketball, but he is considered a sophomore). Is he a point guard, shooting guard, small forward or power forward? (Well, yes).

The college game has been visited by some spectacular newcomers this decade, but not since Memphis placed Penny Hardaway on the court in November 1991 has there been a player as revolutionary as Odom, listed at 6-10 by URI and averaging 14.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists after three games.

In preparing for their opener, which comes tonight at 7:30 at the Providence Civic Center, the No. 17-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats have held stopping Odom as the central focus of attempting to stop No. 25 Rhode Island (2-1).

"He's really good. I'm trying to think if I've seen anybody in the last few years that's come in and been that skilled," said UC coach Bob Huggins. "He's like Penny, kind of. He's different, but he's like that. He affects the game a lot of ways."

Like Hardaway, Odom is an amazing ballhandler for his size. Like Hardaway, he is a good-but-not-great long-distance shooter. Odom is not as flashy a passer, but has an instinct for locating open teammates and delivering the ball. Unlike Hardaway, he wore a good bit of muscle the first time he played a Division I game.

Odom's presence at URI is something of an anomaly. There have been good basketball teams there, but never a recruit of his magnitude. He was the No. 1 player in the class of 1997, but passed through three high schools in his junior and senior years as he worked to become NCAA-eligible. He was pursued by UNLV and Kentucky but did little to deflect the notion he would play college basketball for but a year.

He chose UNLV in the end, but left before he'd finished one summer class. He said he felt external pressure because a Sports Illustrated article questioned how someone with his academic background could achieve an impressive admissions test score. The report caused the NCAA to question whether the work was his own.

"It was kind of a touchy situation," Odom said. "UNLV really didn't want to be involved with me as soon as that happened. I had to go.

"My academic career slacked a little bit, and that left an open door for all the negative publicity. It made me stronger, though. It's just something I had to go through. Most people I meet will tell you I'm a good person."

"He's a college student, which is what he wanted to be, which is what he passed up two years in the NBA to be," Harrick said. "He said something very profound to me. He said, 'Coach, I don't want to be just passing through the NBA. I want to play for a long time.' He's a tremendous pleasure to coach."

Odom was one assist shy of a triple-double in his first college game, against TCU. He had a miserable game in a loss to Providence last weekend and still wound up with nine assists and 10 rebounds.

Horton unlikely to start
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