Point guard Odyssey Sims' development keys Lady Bears' historic run.
College is a time for growing up. And while she's reluctant to admit it, sophomore Lady Bear Odyssey Sims -- like most every student-athlete -- had some growing up to do on the court when she arrived at Baylor.
As a barely 18-year-old freshman in the fall of 2010, Sims was expected to compete for playing time with senior point guard Kelli Griffin and sophomore backup Shanay Washington. But when Griffin quit the team a week before the season started and Washington went down with an ACL tear two weeks later, Sims was suddenly thrust into the role of on-court general for the No. 2 team in the country.
"I think Odyssey was unfairly thrown into a situation last year where she had to really learn by herself," says head coach Kim Mulkey. "She had nobody to teach her on the floor other than the coaches, and there's no substitute for learning from another player."
"I was fine with it last year," insists Sims, who started 27 of the Lady Bears' final 28 games in 2010-11 as Baylor won the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles and advanced to the Elite Eight. "[But] it was a bit more of a challenge, and this year is more comfortable. I feel more free to lead my team, to call more plays and things like that."
Her teammates certainly see a different Sims out on the court this year.
"Last year, she was learning," says junior all-American Brittney Griner. "She kind of got thrown in the fire a little bit, and it was hard on her. This year, she understands the value of each possession. She takes care of the ball and gets us in what we need to do."
"She has grown into more of a leader," adds junior Destiny Williams. "She leads us on the floor. Sometimes you can't tell that she's a sophomore; she plays like she's a senior. I think communication is one of the biggest things she's improved in."
"I think probably the thing I'm most proud of is what she has tried to do in becoming more mature than her skills," says Mulkey. "Her skills are there, but I like the fact that the things she didn't do very well mentally last year, she is receptive and conscious of doing better."
Sims' improvement is a major part of the Lady Bears' success this season, as they started the season 31-0 and were ranked No. 1 in the nation as this issue went to press. At the end of the regular season, Sims was second on the team in scoring (14.5 points per game) and led the team in assists (4.7 a game), but it was her defense that was earning the most praise.
"Odyssey is the best on-ball defender I've had," says Mulkey, a former all-America point guard herself. "She's relentless in what she does. I wouldn't want to bring the ball up the floor against her; she just wears you out."
"I think she scares the other point guard, based on her defense," says Williams. "I think the guards are intimidated to bring the ball up because they know how quick her hands and feet are. ... Her defensive pressure gives the whole team energy to want to get another steal or another stop."
The youngest of Pamela Thompson's three children, and the only girl, Sims started playing basketball at age five while growing up in Irving, Texas, just outside Dallas. And while the Lady Bears' lengthy run of success certainly played a part in leading Sims to Baylor, it was the school's location (and Sims' love for her family) that tipped the scales in favor of the Lady Bears.
"It was close to home, and I wanted to be close to my momma," she says.
It seems the Odyssey Sims known to family and friends is different from both the tough player seen on the court and the quiet Sims who speaks with the media.
"She's soft on the inside," says Griner. "She tries not to be shy, but she kinda is. She's definitely fun to be around."
Nevertheless, her competitive nature is never far from the surface.
"I'm pretty sure people have noticed that already," laughs Williams. "She has the drive to win; I don't care if we're down by 10, the kid's gonna try to find a way to get us a bucket or a stop. I think that's the biggest thing I love about that kid."
That drive -- an internal engine that mirrors that of her coach -- may be enough to lead the Lady Bears all the way to a national title.