Last year, the Blue Devils brought in five heralded freshman guards to address depth concerns in the backcourt.
Many of those pieces remain, so Duke had a different focus for its 2016 recruiting class—adding versatility at the forward position.
Enter Leaonna Odom, whose arrival in Durham perhaps could not have come at a better time following the departure of star forward Azurá Stevens in the offseason.
Although she is the only top-100 prospect in her class—fellow rookie Emily Schubert was not highly recruited in high school and is out for the year with a torn ACL—Odom has drawn rave reviews from her teammates. With Golden State Warriors comparisons being used to describe the Blue Devils’ dynamic backcourt, Maryland transfer Lexie Brown and her teammates have not shied away from expanding the reference to comparing the freshman’s game to Warriors forward Kevin Durant’s.
“She can jump out of the gym, she’s very athletic, so that will bring a lot to our team,” sophomore guard Haley Gorecki said. “She can play multiple positions, she’s a great shooter, she has a good pull-up... and she can move very well off the ball to get herself open.”
At 6-foot-2, Odom offers the Blue Devils the same versatility Stevens provided as a forward who can step out and shoot as well as run the floor. Although it might take time for Odom to get strong enough to rebound as well as Stevens, the freshman was a deadly shooter last year as a high school senior, leading her team by shooting 44 percent from 3-point territory. In addition to pacing her team in 3-point percentage, Odom also led in points per game, averaging nearly a double-double, and was second in rebounds, assists and blocks.
The No. 9 recruit in the country played at Chaminade High School in West Hills, Calif., where she spent her junior and senior years guiding one of the nation’s top women’s basketball teams. In her final season, Odom won a state championship.
In a highlight from the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division title game shared by ESPNW, The Los Angeles Times and other media outlets, Odom calmly took a dribble to her left and let a shot from the top of the key fly with time winding down. The ball caught the front of the rim and gently settled against the backboard for a moment before falling neatly through the net at the buzzer, giving Chaminade a thrilling win.
“She hits a lot of hard shots. We’ve done situations every practice, and she’s a competitor,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “She has that mentality, that competitive mentality.”
Odom’s versatility makes her one of the most intriguing players on the Blue Devils’ roster given Duke’s talented trio of guards in Brown, All-ACC performer Rebecca Greenwell and sophomore Kyra Lambert. With the Blue Devils lacking a traditional post presence for the first time in several years, Duke could use Odom at one of the forward spots to create matchup problems and speed the game up, much like the Warriors do with their forwards.
That strategy can only work if Odom can defend and rebound at a high level alongside senior forwards Oderah Chidom and Kendall Cooper as well as redshirt sophomore Lyneé Belton. But so far, the Lompoc, Calif., native has shown the instincts necessary to learn multiple positions at the college level at the same time.
“She’s going to play the three and the four, when we go kind of super-fast, she’ll be at the four,” McCallie said. “She’s doing a remarkable thing. It’s very difficult to come into a program and learn those positions, the three and the four.”
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
In Duke’s Blue-White scrimmage, Odom scored 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting and added eight rebounds. As is the case with most freshmen, though, the forward made some rookie mistakes, committing five turnovers throughout the scrimmage and finishing the afternoon with seven fouls—two more than would be allowed in an official game.
“Coming into a new program and just being confident with everyone who’s so talented and being strong enough to play with people at this level [will be an adjustment],” Odom said.
With the Blue Devil guards likely driving the bus for Duke this year, Odom’s natural athleticism could make her the perfect forward in an up-tempo offense. So when the Blue Devils open the regular season next week, do not be surprised if Duke’s “Splash Sisters” are not the only ones making highlight-reel plays.
“[First-year players] don’t always know the pace,” McCallie said. “Once we can get her locked in to the pace, she’s going to be terrific.”