Odom's knack for timely baskets leads to more playing time

Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 8:27pm

At 6-foot-9, Rod Odom’s height is one of the first things that sticks out when he steps onto a basketball court.

It doesn’t take long, however, to realize the Vanderbilt freshman is not the typical big man. First off, he doesn’t look like type who would be inside banging around for rebounds as he weighs a slender 207 pounds. Secondly, he doesn’t shoot like the average big man.

The forward is primarily coming off the bench — he has started just four games — and is shooting 44.6 percent from the field, including a eye-popping 42.6 percent from 3-point range. His 23 3-pointers account for more than 60 percent of his buckets. 

“I definitely would say that is something I have worked on more in my time here,” Odom said of his outside shooting. “In high school, I wasn’t much of a shooter. I knew if I could be more consistent of a shooter, I would be able to play more so that is what I tried to do.”

His long-range production has especially been timely as of late. Odom hit three 3-pointers off the bench in Saturday’s win against South Carolina, including a big one right before halftime. A week before that, he scored a career-high 12 points with three 3-pointers made in a loss to Arkansas.

Odom admits it has helped having scorers like John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor around him because he sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

“I have had a lot of open opportunities because of the type of players we have on our team,” Odom said. “They draw a lot of attention, which leaves me a lot of open space to shoot. So I think that is what has really helped me this season.”

Prior to Thursday’s home game against Alabama (8 p.m.,  ESPN2), Odom's scoring average was just 4.7 points a game. But his clutch shooting and defense have led to a rise in his playing time. In Southeastern Conference play, he averages nearly 18 minutes a game, which is the sixth most on the team.

“I wasn’t really sure because of the depth at my position,” Odom said of his role. ‘But I just knew I was going try to come in and score and learn the system and just kind of get adjusted to things. I think the biggest thing I was trying to do was just get better every game.”

A native of Central Islip, N.Y., Odom entered college after a breakout senior season at Middlesex School in Massachusetts. He averaged 25.6 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and 3.1 blocks and received offers from West Virginia, Connecticut, Arizona, Louisville and Michigan, among others.

Though Odom insists his shooting needed work, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings never thought that would be an issue.

His level-headed play and big-time shooting, on the other hand, has caught even Stallings off-guard at times this season.

“I am surprised he has shot as well as he has shot it as a freshman,” he said. “But we felt Rod was going to be a very good player when we recruited him. I think the best is certainly yet to come for him. ... He is an eager learner and an eager worker so I would expect that maybe between this year and next year we will see him take a big jump.”

Odom doesn’t appear to have scratched the surface of his potential elsewhere. He averages only 2.8 rebounds and has just four blocks, but he hasn’t needed to much in either regard. With a loaded frontcourt featuring 6-11 center Festus Ezeli, 6-8 Lance Goulbourne and Taylor, Odom has extended his services to the backcourt.

It has been much appreciated. While he often has seen open looks because defenses are drawn toward Jenkins and Taylor, that might change soon if his hot shooting continues.

“That’s what I was telling Rod, ‘When you keep doing that, it frees even me up and frees everybody else up,’” Jenkins, who is averaging a league-best 19.2 points a game, said. “If we can keep doing that and just hitting open shots, you have to respect everybody. It definitely helps out a lot.”

Briefly

• Alabama (15-7) enters the game as the top team in the SEC West with a 7-1 record. The Crimson Tide has beaten both Tennessee and Kentucky and their only conference loss was to Arkansas, which knocked off Vanderbilt (16-6, 4-4) by 11 points in Nashville nearly two weeks ago.

The Crimson Tide are on a five-game winning streak. JaMychal Green averages 16.8 points and eight rebounds in SEC play.

“You can’t do anything but admire a team that exceeds expectations and really got off to a slow start this year in the non-conference [including losses to St. Peter’s and Seton Hall],” Stallings said. “They kept it together and kept working and now they have a very good team... To go through any part of this league 7-1 you have done a great job. We know we have our hands full and we will have to be on the top of our game come Thursday.”

• Starting forward Andre Walker is questionable for Thursday’s game. Walker has missed the last 10 games due to a high ankle sprain. Stallings said whether he plays or not could depend on the status of Goulbourne (ankle).

“I would say it is 50-50 for me, at this point, as to whether [Walker] plays on Thursday night or not,” Stallings said before Tuesday’s practice.