The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)

Hamby bullish on potential for Nelson-Ododa with Huskies

- By Jim Fuller

UNCASVILLE — The interview began with just a trace of a smile on Dearica Hamby’s face.

The fourth-year forward for the Las Vegas Aces headed over to meet with a couple of reporters about an hour and a half before Sunday’s season-opening loss to the Connecticu­t Sun with no advance knowledge of the subject matter of the question and answer session. When the name of her her sister-in-law came up, it didn’t take much prodding for the former Wake Forest star and firstround draft pick to discuss the bright future for UConn incoming freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa, who is set to arrive on campus with fellow signee Christyn Williams on May 29.

Hamby grew up in the Atlanta area, and that was where she met Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, Olivia’s brother and the man she would marry. The mention of Olivia Nelson-Ododa’s name quickly is followed by “oh, my sister” said with a certain amount of pride.

Olivia sought out the all-time

leading scorer and rebounder in the history of the Wake Forest women’s basketball program during the recruiting process, and Hamby was happy to offer advice to one of the top recruits in the Class of 2018 and a player who drew plenty of attention after taking part in the dunk contest at the McDonald’s All-American Game and dunking again in a practice the day before the Jordan Brand Classic.

“I told her the things to look for, and when she went on her visits I told her to go to the place that feels like home for you no matter where that is and she chose UConn,” Hamby said.

Olivia Nelson-Ododa, a 6-foot-4 forward out of Winder-Barrow High School in Winder, Ga. is the No. 5 rated player in her class by ESPN and No. 7 by Prospects Nation. If she hadn’t suffered a serious knee injury during her junior season, perhaps she would have been ranked even higher.

On the day that she committed to UConn, NelsonOdod­a made it clear she was thankful to have somebody like Hamby she could bounce ideas off of when

the recruiting process got a little crazy.

“She talked to me about it,” Nelson-Ododa said. “She went through the college recruiting process too. I was able to watch some of her games. It is really cool to see the distinctio­n between college basketball and pro level basketball, the difference in those levels. So she has been able to give me advice and mentor me through this process too.”

Hamby believes that the sky is the limit for her sister-in-law.

“She is going to be under Geno who is a fabulous coach, she has a great skill set,” Hamby said. “She obviously has to get a little stronger, but I am excited to see what Geno (Auriemma) can do with her and how far they go.

“She can handle the ball, she can post up. She is super athletic, she can jump obviously, she can defend, she can run, she can shoot and do just about everything. The players who do that at this level are superstars — (Elena) Delle Donne, Candace (Parker) ... I think I would compare her to those types of players. Off the court, she is a good person, she has a good heart.”

Hamby believes that Nelson-Ododa’s best position

at the next level could be power forward. She mentioned how current WNBA players like Morgan Tuck and Gabby Williams thrived as power forwards in the UConn system. Last season Azurá Stevens got to play that position, and she would likely have been a national player of the year candidate if she returned to UConn. Instead, Stevens declared for the WNBA Draft and was taken sixth overall (the same spot Hamby went in the 2018 draft) by Dallas, leaving even more potential playing time for Nelson-Ododa as a freshman.

“Obviously she is much taller than those (players),” Hamby said. “I said (after Stevens left UConn), ‘you have to go right now.’ She is looking forward to it. I think it will be a growing process for her, but she will be all right.”

It’s been an interestin­g time for Hamby and her husband. Alonzo averaged 7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in seven games with the NBA G League’s Salt Lake City Stars during the 2017-18 season. Hamby averaged 16.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.7 steals playing in Italy with Ragusa. Her stint in Italy resulted in her being a late arrival at the Las Vegas training camp and likely

the reason she played less than five minutes in Sunday’s 101-65 loss to Connecticu­t. Oh, there was also the little addition to the couple’s life as their daughter Amaya was born in February of 2017.

Although Hamby played in all 34 games during the 2017 season when the Las Vegas franchise played its final season in San Antonio, she admits that it wasn’t until recently that she began to feel like the player she was before her pregnancy.

“I felt like I was in condition and in shape, but I feel like you have to learn how to maneuver your new body,” Hamby said. “I would say maybe overseas I was back to myself, expanded my game a little bit.”

Hamby also cherished making Mother’s Day special for her mother. Although her daughter was back in the U.S. during the most recent Mother’s Day, still she knows that the day has added meaning now that she is a mom.

“I take pride in being a mom, I love Amara,” Hamby said. “I have a good mother and she’s done a great job of instilling motherly qualities in me.”

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