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Lamar Odom: A star in the making

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He may be only 20, but Lamar Odom has accomplished more than most people have in a lifetime. The South Jamaica native has played in arenas all across the country, but amazingly he had never gotten the chance to play in the one he used to go to as a child. That is, until Monday afternoon when Odom and the Los Angeles Clippers took on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. It was the first time the NBA rookie had played at an arena that is about 20 minutes away from where he played his high school ball at Chirst the King in Middle Village.

"It was definitely like a dream come true," he said, despite the 87-76 loss. "Being from Queens and making it to the NBA and playing in the Garden against the Knicks, it was definitely a dream come true and I can't wait to come back."

Odom, who bought about 40 tickets for friends and family for the game, was nervous at the outset and he seemed to struggle in the early going. Odom opened his scoring with a three from the right side with 5:48 left in the first quarter and then sent down a one-handed jam on the break from Tyrone Nesby in the second quarter. But from there, Odom struggled. He finished the first half 2-5 from the field and had two offensive fouls.

"Playing in front of all my family and friends, I was definitely nervous. That's why in the beginning of the game, I just let it come to me," he said.

But when the game was up for grabs in the fourth quarter, Odom played much more aggressively. With the home crowd booing him lustily, Odom nailed two free throws with 2:25 left that brought the Clippers to within four, 78-74. He followed with a great interior pass to Maurice Taylor that made it 80-74 with 1:40 remaining. Odom finished with 14 points, seven assists and three rebounds in 45 minutes.

"I thought he played well and handled [the pressure]," said Clippers' head coach Jim Todd. "I'm sure he wanted to play better and get a win in his homecoming. He tries to make everybody better on this team by not looking for his own offense first. He is our captain already at 20-years-old."

Odom, who grew up on Linden Boulevard and 131st Street in South Jamaica, is one of the favorites for NBA Rookie of the Year. The 6-foot-10-inch guard has averaged 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists a game. His 37.1 minutes per game ranks first among rookies. Odom is also second in blocks, second in rebounding and third in scoring among first-year players.

Odom, who was selected fourth overall in the 1999 NBA Draft, made a spectacular NBA debut, scoring a game-high 30 points to go along with 12 rebounds, three assists, two rebounds and two blocks in 44 minutes against Seattle on Nov. 2. He remained hot in his first month as a pro and was named co-rookie of the month with Boston's Adrian Griffin. Odom also was part of the NBA All-Star weekend, playing for the rookie team, which defeated the NBA sophomores, 92-83 in overtime. Odom had 15 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks in 28 minutes of action. It was a start the former Christ the King standout says he could never have predicted.

"I'm always confident in my ability. Everyone is," he said. "I can't tell you I thought I was going to score 30 points my first game, or be named rookie of the month in my first month in the NBA, but I'm just trying to go out and play confident and play my best all the time."

Odom's skills on the court are unquestionable. At 6-foot-10-inches, he has the size to battle power forwards on the boards, but his best asset is his brilliant ball-handling skills, making him one of the most versitile players in the NBA and one of the toughest to match up against. The biggest transition for Odom from college to professional basketball has been the rigors of the NBA schedule.

"I'm tired. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't," he said. "But I can fight through it. I'm not going to quit or give up."

But Odom says the opportuity to play against the top players in the world is a major motivational factor for him.

"You have to come with your top game every night," he said. "The other night I had to play against [Springfield Gardens native] Anthony Mason, then the Chicago Bulls, now the Knicks, then I have to go to Philly to play Toni Kukoc and then to Minnesota to play against Kevin Garnett, so the competitiveness of the NBA is everything I have every dreamed about."

Odom is one of the most heralded players to ever come out of Christ the King. As a sophomore he scored 36 points in the Catholic High School championship game, breaking Lew Alcindor's individual scoring record for the game. The mark would later be tied by current NBA players, Kenny Anderson (Molloy High School) and Felipe Lopez (Rice High School). Odom now will learn from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (formerly Alcindor) on a regular basis as the former Los Angeles Lakers star was named an assistant coach of the Clippers Friday.

"He's the leading scorer in NBA history, he won NBA championships with two different teams, played with Oscar Robinson, Magic Johnson, he knows what he's talking about," Odom said. "He's real easy to approach, real easygoing. I like having him around. There's just an aura around him."

After his coaching debut Monday, Abdul-Jabbar said Odom reminds him a bit of his former teammate, Magic Johnson.

"Lamar is like a giant Swiss Army Knife. He could do anything, he rebounds for us, he plays good D," he said. "He handles the ball and sets people up, he can shoot it. He's really very difficult to guard for people at various positions. He's going to be a good one. He's going to be in this league a long time."

After playing three years at Christ the King for Bob Oliva, Odom's career would start to go down a bizarre road. He finished his senior year at his third high school, Redemption Christian Academy in Troy, N.Y. He orginally signed a letter of intent to play at the University of Las Vegas, but left the school when the validity of his ACT scores were called into question in published reports.

"Everything's a learning experience," he said. "You can't really judge a person for what they do or what they go through when they're 17, 18 years old and if you do, I think you have a problem. Everybody goes through ups and downs, but who gets through it and who benefits from it and who learns from it is the winner. I think I have."

Odom left UNLV and transfered to the University of Rhode Island, where he averaged 17.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists for the Rams in his lone season of collegiate basketball. He was named an Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press, All-Atlantic 10 Conference first team and A-10 Rookie of the Year. His buzzer-beating three-point heave won the A-10 tournament and sent the Rams to the NCAA tournament. A few weeks after the Rams were eliminated from the tournament, Odom ended months of speculation and declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft where he was selected fourth overall.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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