Over the last two years, Rod Odom blended in.
Now it's time to stand out.
Dubbed by his head coach as the “unquestioned leader,” Odom plans to assert himself for an inexperienced Vanderbilt squad with a lot of unknowns as it approaches Friday’s first exhibition game against St. Xavier (7 p.m., Memorial Gymnasium).
“I have to be more aggressive and be more of a leader,” Odom said. “On the offensive end and defensive end I just have to be more active and try to be more of a presence out there.”
One of two juniors on a team without seniors, Odom is the only returning player who has played in every game (70) over the last two years. Even so, the 6-foot-9 small forward will be adjusting to a new role — every day starter.
In his first two seasons, Odom served as a 3-point specialist off the bench in coach Kevin Stallings’ eight-player rotation. He has 10 career starts but is the elder statesmen compared to his teammates. Nearly 90 percent of last year’s scoring is gone. Of the returning players, only Odom (two) and junior guard Kyle Fuller (one) made starts last year.
“He is a great leader,” forward Shelby Moats said. “Vocally – we’re all getting there but vocally and he is leading by example and people look up to that. I look up to that, being him older than me and him playing my natural position. People are starting to look up to him more and more for that emotional and physical leadership.”
The 21-year-old Odom spent the first half of his college career looking up to Jeffery Taylor, Lance Goulbourne, Brad Tinsley, Festus Ezeli and John Jenkins. With that potent starting five gone, he’ll now be looking to take their points.
“Rod is significantly better. He is the unquestioned leader on our team,” Stallings said. “I think that comes in the form of just direct leadership and also in the form of example by how he plays. Rod needs to be better for us to be as competitive as we’re hoping to be. He is certainly a guy that’s taken a pretty large step forward from a year ago.”
Odom heads into next week’s season opener on Nov. 10 against Nicholls State, with career averages of 3.1 points and 2.3 rebounds in 15 minutes per game.
He doesn’t expect all of his scoring to come from the perimeter either. A sharp shooter who has made 37.4 percent of his 3-pointers, he believes he “can do a lot of different things.”
“I won’t strictly be a 3-point shooter,” the Central Islip, N.Y. native said “I think I’ll be able to get to the basket and make some plays for my teammates also.”
That progress began in the weight room.
Listed at 215 pounds, he put on extra weight because he expects his role to expand inside. With 6-foot-11 Josh Henderson not practicing until mid-November because of a foot injury and Moats adjusting to playing center, Odom will be stretched all over the court.
“He works so hard, like stupid hard,” Moats said. “He is in the gym all the time. That’s a testament to him. He put the work in because he wants to score in bunches because he wants to be the leader.”