Until this year, Rod Odom looked like a cautionary tale about overhyping four-star recruits.
Odom's first year in Nashville looked like the origin story of a legendary Vanderbilt basketball team. The 6'9" athlete had been rated as one of the top 100 players in the country, and he joined a roster loaded with more NBA talent than any Commodore squad had ever had. The New Yorker was able to find some time off the bench as a true freshman and looked solid in short minutes - but his role on the team was undefined. Was the lithe forward going to fill a role around the rim as a finesse power forward? Or did his shooting and length make him a nightmare matchup at small forward?
Odom's place in Nashville was never clearly defined in those first two seasons, and his play on the court suffered as he tried to create his own hybrid spot in the SEC. Odom could shoot, but he struggled to make the most of the matchup problems he created. He could rebound, but he was averse to mixing it up in the paint. Even his junior season, which saw his scoring average jump eight points to 10.4 thanks to roster attrition, failed to inspire much confidence. Odom clearly belonged on the court, but fans were left to worry whether or not he would ever put it together at Memorial Gym.
In the end, Commodore fans were worried about nothing.
Rod Odom, All-SEC forward, will leave Nashville 15 points shy of joining the 1,000 point club at Vanderbilt. He was the glue that kept this team from falling apart, along with Kyle Fuller and Dai-Jon Parker, this spring. In one season, he turned into the player that opposing teams gameplanned for and opposing bloggers worried about. Suddenly, the phrase "Uh oh, Odom's heating up" was enough to wring concerned tweets from the bouncyhoops fanbases across the SEC.
While Odom wasn't the superman this team needed to will the 'Dores to the postseason with just seven active scholarship players, he was every bit the leader that the Commodores needed to keep hope alive in Nashville. Odom delivered a pair of big wins his senior year, driving Vandy to upsets against Missouri and Tennessee in an otherwise forgettable season. His averages in those wins? 25 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game while shooting 51.6 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three-point range.
Odom redefined his game as a stretch forward who could split time between both positions while maintaining his effectiveness. His ability to draw opposing big men outside helped space out a frontcourt that would have been otherwise clogged by the paint-patrolling offense of Damian Jones and James Siakam. He found a way to mesh with every possible combination of players possible for the Commodores; he pretty much had to. The team's recent attrition left Odom logging 36 minutes a night. He played 40 (or more) seven times.
Most importantly, he made the most out of that time even when his shots weren't falling. Odom developed as a defender despite taking on some of the toughest players the SEC had to offer. He developed from a lanky kid who didn't know how to use his length into a proficient help defender that used his size and speed to mitigate his opponents' advantages. Despite playing between two traditional positions, the senior became an athlete who could defend both forward positions without hurting his team.
Odom will go down in history as a Kevin Stallings guy. He's a player who made his three pointers but struggled to score efficiently inside the arc. He was never a rebounder, but he became a defender and - most importantly - a leader for a team that needed all the guidance it could get in 2014. He and Kyle Fuller were the heart and soul of a team that made up for a lack of depth by playing ironman basketball and winning ugly. Good or bad, they defined an era of Commodore basketball.