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Chidom shouldering a bigger load for Duke women's basketball

After overcoming three shoulder surgeries, the junior has emerged as a veteran leader for a young Duke squad

<p>Chidom has recovered from multiple surgeries and continued to be productive down low, averaging 8.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this season.</p>

Chidom has recovered from multiple surgeries and continued to be productive down low, averaging 8.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this season.

Nearly 12 months ago, in the early minutes of an ACC contest in Winston Salem, N.C., the Duke training staff was once again tending to Oderah Chidom. 

For the then-sophomore, the third time was certainly not the charm.

After dislocating her left shoulder for the third time, one of the more successful freshmen in program history—Chidom shot better than 60 percent from the floor as a rookie, serving as a backup to All-American center Elizabeth Williams—was sidelined for the remainder of her sophomore campaign. She seemed to be hitting her stride right as the injury bug struck and was averaging 8.5 points to go along with 5.0 rebounds per game.

But surgery ensued in the following weeks and the 6-foot-4 forward was forced to watch from the sidelines as her team lost five of its last nine games en route to a Sweet 16 exit in the NCAA tournament.

Now almost a year later with the Blue Devils in the midst of a three-game winning streak, Chidom has a newfound role on a young team. As one of the two elder stateswomen, alongside graduate student Amber Henson, the junior has grown into the talented, gritty post player that Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie needs her to be.

“Sitting on the bench for a couple of months when I was hurt really gave me a new perspective on the game,” Chidom said. “It was frustrating to not be able to physically help my team in any way, but only be able to from a vocal standpoint. Then, seeing a lot of stuff from the bench and [hearing] what coach is saying kind of gave me a new perspective on how I can apply my game to the coaches’ game plan.”

In an impressive 71-55 victory Sunday against North Carolina, the Oakland, Calif., native posted a season-high 15 points and a career-high five steals. The stellar performance was just one of many in what has been a coming-out season, as Chidom continues to put her mark on this year’s edition of the team—which was in desperate need of leadership following the graduation of Williams and the arrival of five incoming freshmen, leaving a noticeable lack of experience.

“Oderah has been terrific,” McCallie said. “She’s been at times inconsistent, but she also is evolutionary. She’s never been a vocal leader. She’s always been quiet. She’s always been somebody who did some good dirty work, but did it behind the scenes. Now, she’s got the opportunity to be a junior, to be a person that’s more vocal, to be a person that can be more demanding, and that can calm the team down and get them focused.”

No longer is Chidom hiding behind the curtains—though her impact may not always be as evident by gaudy numbers, such as those of sophomore Azurá Stevens, Chidom has been a key cog.

In the Blue Devils’ 15 wins, she is averaging 8.5 points per game—as opposed to her average of 7.7 points in the team's six losses. Chidom has also been critical on the defensive side of things, notching 1.2 steals per contest in addition to 15 total blocks.

Still, like most of the Duke roster, turnovers have plagued the developing leader. At 2.2 turnovers per game, including an ugly eight in a shocking Jan. 14 loss at home to N.C. State, there is room for improvement when Chidom gets her hands on the ball.

“Our team goal is to limit turnovers,” Chidom said. “Turnovers are going to happen…[but it is about] my ability to bounce back from poor offensive movement.”

After a summer spent on campus rehabbing alongside roommate and redshirt freshman Lynné Belton and practicing with healthy teammates Erin Mathias and Mercedes Riggs, Chidom was anxious to get back on the court.

She erupted for 34 total points in the Blue Devils’ two exhibition matchups and even though her numbers settled back down to earth once the regular season opened, it was a sign of things to come.

“It felt really, really different considering I hadn’t played against anyone other than my teammates for so many months,” Chidom said. “I remember the recovery process is so slow because my team was playing pickup all the time in the preseason and the summertime and I was never cleared to play—I don’t think I really started to play five-on-five until two weeks before Blue-White [scrimmage]. So just being able to go out there, I got really, really excited and there was a lot of emotion and intensity finally playing again.”

Back-to-back double figure showings against Minnesota and No. 2 South Carolina in early December showed that even against stiffer competition, she would not wilt in the spotlight. But, with a new season comes new expectations and McCallie needs Chidom more than ever.

Given the laundry list of injuries to Belton, freshman guards Angela Salvadores and Haley Gorecki as well as the second-semester absence of fellow junior Kendall Cooper, Chidom will have a major say in how Duke fares the rest of the way.

With just nine games remaining on the regular-season slate, the forward’s main goal is simple.

“I don’t want to lose again,” Chidom said. “That’s a focus…I’m not nervous about the future in terms of this team, I just think we need to start playing Duke basketball now. We see glimpses of it in the game and we see glimpses of it in practice. I think we’re still learning how to play together and once we start clicking, I think the sky’s the limit."

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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