Undeclared and extraordinary, Olivia Nelson-Ododa healing, observing and mulling

Courtesy Matthew Huddleston

Olivia Nelson-Ododa, once considered the No. 1 prospect in the 2018 class, is down to Georgia, UConn, South Carolina, Duke and Florida State.

It was a gruesome injury, not for the squeamish. Olivia Nelson-Ododa, a 6-foot-5, 170-pound senior center for Winder-Barrow (Winder, Georgia) and the No. 5 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2018 class, was going for a rebound in January when it happened.

"A girl bumped into me, and my knee popped inward while my kneecap popped in the opposite direction," Nelson-Ododa said. "It was like my kneecap and the rest of my knee kind of crisscrossed."

Her dad, Sebastian, was in the stands, telling himself that his daughter would get up and be fine.

Then he heard her scream.

"I've seen her go down before," he said. "But when they stopped the game, and I heard her hollering, I jumped out of my seat. I cut across the court and tried to comfort her."

Nelson-Ododa was carried off the court; not even ice could keep her knee from swelling to the size of a softball. She was in so much pain that she needed medication to fall asleep that night.

Nine months and a surgery later, Nelson-Ododa has yet to return to the court. Initially she was happy she didn't suffer an ACL injury. But her injuries -- a fractured kneecap and a torn medial patellofemoral ligament -- were significant.

Lately, though, there has been good news for the undeclared senior.

Two weeks ago, she was cleared for lateral movement and increased activity. Now she's just waiting to get cleared for contact.

"Doctors haven't given us a specific return date," said Nelson-Ododa's mother, Heather. "But we're optimistic she'll be able to play again in four to six weeks."

Nelson-Ododa, a former No. 1 national prospect, said her forced inactivity has been mentally challenging.

"It's been such a long journey," said Nelson-Ododa, who had never previously faced an injury. "There are times when I've been frustrated and not really sure what to do. But there have been other times when I feel great, and I feel I'm really close to being able to play."

Her doctors have implored her to remain patient.

"Hopefully I will be even stronger than before because I've built up all the muscles around my knee and my quad," she said. "I feel more confident that I will be able to prevent injury."

The colleges still on her list -- Connecticut, Duke, Florida State, Georgia and South Carolina -- still have full confidence in her as well.

Nelson-Ododa, a straight-A student who takes honors courses and wants to study medicine, has made official visits to Connecticut, Florida State and South Carolina. She will tour Duke next weekend.

After the Duke trip, she said she will "compare and contrast" her finalists and could make a decision at that point.

"What I'm looking for is a strong balance between basketball and academics, and a program where I can fit in well," she said. "I keep notes with me, and I'm constantly analyzing each school."

Nelson-Ododa said all the schools have impressed her so far, but one part of one visit stands out.

During her trip to South Carolina's campus, she got to sit in on two knee surgeries.

"The doctor talked me through the operations as they were happening," she said.

Nelson-Ododa once had a list of 12 universities on her list, and when she made cuts, she called each head coach and their assistants to let them know she was not going to be attending their school.

Cutting from five to one will be even tougher, she said, in part because of the close relationships she has built with these final few coaching staffs.

"At times, it does get stressful," she said. "But my parents have done a great job helping me manage this, letting me have a normal life."

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