COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa are packed for their trip to Storrs and their first summer school session at the University of Connecticut as members of the women’s basketball team.
Of course, there was a slight detour west to the United States Olympic Training Center for the weekend’s USA Basketball’s U-18 national team trials. The finalists for the 12-player squad that will take part in the 2018 FIBA Americas U-18 Championship will be announced tonight.
Then it’s on an airplane and off to Connecticut Tuesday morning.
“It’s hectic, but something that I have to get used to,” Nelson-Ododa said. “It’s exciting and it’s good to see the familiar faces here and be able to compete.
“But what happened to summer vacation?” she added with a laugh.
The freshmen will spend five weeks in school and with their teammates. If Williams and/or Nelson-Ododa are named to the U-18 team, they’ll return here for a training camp on July 20 ahead of the tournament being held Aug. 1-7 at a location to be determined.
“There can be some challenges with it, but my main goal is to make this team,” Nelson-Ododa said. “When I focus on something, it’s my priority.”
Nelson-Ododa and Williams were teammates on the United States team that won a bronze medal at the 2016 FIBA U-17 world championships. Williams added a silver medal at the 2017 U-19 world championships and a gold medal at the 2017 FIBA 3x3 U-18 World Cup. Nelson-Ododa did not participate in any trials a year ago as she recovered from surgery to repair a dislocated knee cap and a torn ligament in the knee.
“Olivia and I haven’t played together since the U-17s,” Williams said. “We weren’t on the same team at the McDonald’s and Jordan Brand games. It’s great to be here with her. It is kind of like we get a head start.”
Williams, a 5-foot-11 guard from Little Rock, Arkansas, averaged 26.8 points and 10.4 rebounds in leading Central Arkansas Christian to the Class 4A state championship.
She finished with 3,500 points and 1,261 rebounds, but the big number for her was one, as in No. 1, as the state title proved elusive until her final game.
“To go out my senior year with a state championship, it took so long to get it,” Williams said. “It was an amazing experience. I was in the game when the final buzzer went off. I had the ball and I threw it into the air. We were having fun with it. It was also a relief when the buzzer went off. We had done it. It was the most special basketball experience I’ve had.”
For her efforts, she swept the national Player of the Year honors.
“I didn’t even know there were all these awards,” Williams said with a smile. “They’re all on my living room table at home. But it meant a lot to me. I saw lists of players that had won the awards before me and to be recognized like that was pretty cool.”
With Williams’ arrival, the Huskies will have three consensus high school Player of the Year winners on their roster with also Katie Lou Samuelson (2015) and Megan Walker (2017).
Samuelson had Breanna Stewart to go to advice as a rookie. Walker had Samuelson. Williams has both. She has talked to coach Geno Auriem-ma and his staff about what to expect this summer.
“They tell me to come in with a lot of confidence,” Williams said. “I’m there for a reason. I was recruited by Coach Auri-emma for a reason. I’m going to trust my game, trust my teammates, and work for the best.”
Nelson-Ododa was a top-five recruit coming out of high school and may have been higher if not for the knee injury that forced her into 10 months of rehabilitation.
The 6-foot-4 forward from Winder, Georgia, averaged 19.5 points, 15.9 rebounds, and 5.2 blocked shots in leading Winder-Barrow High to a state tournament quarterfinal appearance. She finished with 1,683 points and 1,121 rebounds in her career.
“In high school season you’re referred to as ‘UConn girl’ and that can be tough but I just went out there and tried to play my game,” Nelson-Ododa said.
While the Huskies are excited to have Nelson-Ododa on board, probably no one has higher expectations for her than her sister-in-law Dearica Hamby of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, who was a first-round draft pick after a stellar career at Wake Forest.
“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’m excited to see what Geno 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 the pro level are superstars - Elena Delle Donne, Candace Parker ... I think I’d compare her to those types of players. Off the court, she is a good person and has a good heart.”
For their part, Nelson-Ododa and Williams know they are starting a new chapter.
“I hope to add whatever I can, whatever they teach me, whatever I learn,” Nelson-Ododa said. “I want to be able the help the team and do the things to help us win. I expect myself to work hard no matter what the circumstances. I’m going to give 100 percent effort in anything I do. By doing that I can be successful in a lot of things.”
Williams will keep her high school uniform No. 13 at UConn as will Nelson-Ododa, who will wear No. 20.
Welcome to UConn.
“I’m excited, I know we’re both excited,” Williams said. “We’re enjoying our time here and we’re doing all we can to make this team, but we’re also ready to go.”