TERRE HAUTE —
If you compare a college basketball career to a book, Indiana State point guard Jake Odum has been a page-turner from day one.
Odum has dazzled ISU fans from the time he became a starter during the first weekend of his first season in 2010. The Sycamores have not had a losing season during the Odum era, a run of success unprecedented in ISU’s Division I history.
As good as the book has been, all books are judged, in large part, but how they end. The final chapter is often remembered more than any other. That’s the crossroads that Odum is at right now.
Odum, along with fellow seniors Lucas Eitel, Manny Arop and Dawon Cummings, will be feted in Senior Day ceremonies on Saturday after ISU’s 1 p.m. game at Hulman Center against Northern Iowa.
By any measure, Odum — who along with Eitel is a fifth-year senior — deserves a day in the sun, a day of appreciation, and a thank you from ISU fans.
Prior to Odum’s arrival, a successful season for ISU was considered to be avoidance of the Missouri Valley Conference play-in round, something done just once in the previous nine seasons before Odum began playing. Now it’s considered a near-formality.
“He’s had so much impact it’s hard to imagine Indiana State basketball without Jake Odum,” Lucas Eitel said.
But as times have changed, so have expectations. Even though ISU is in second place in the MVC, destined for its best finish since 2000, and even though ISU has reached the 20-win mark in the regular season earlier than any since the 1979 season, there’s a cloud of doubt hanging over the Sycamores.
For the third season in a row, ISU is finishing poorly. It hasn’t yet been as pronounced as the 2013 season, when ISU lost seven of its last nine, but the anxiety is real. ISU’s 77-59 loss to Illinois State created the first losing streak of the season. And while the skid is at a modest two games, the underlying causes have been evident for much longer.
The overriding fear is that as good as the Odum era has been for ISU, it could end with a legacy of close, but no cigar. The promise of the 2011 NCAA Tournament run, when Odum was a freshman with his entire career ahead of him, has given way to the fear of another year that might fall short of ISU’s potential.
The NCAA Tournament was the goal and it remains so, but even a postseason tournament victory or two would ease the sting of falling short of the NCAA Tournament. ISU has not won a postseason tournament game in the Odum era, with losses in the NCAA Tournament in 2011, CBI in 2012 and NIT in 2013.
Odum himself rarely worries about his last chapter, or any other chapter, for that matter. He isn’t into navel-gazing his career. He leaves that to others.
But he knows the clock is ticking, and in the wake of an embarrassing loss on Wednesday at Redbird Arena, he expressed some frustration.
“We have to take a look in the mirror. Our team chemistry fell a little bit in the last couple of games. It happens like that when you’re not winning. It’s tough,” Odum said. “I have to be one of the glue guys to keep it together.”
The angst-ridden here and now of the Sycamores’ season, and the final chapter yet to be written about Odum, is juxtaposed against a career that stacks up with the very best in ISU’s history.
History is often used in a joking manner regarding Odum. He entered the ISU picture in 2008 as he flew under the radar of the state’s recruiting experts whilst starring at Terre Haute South. Initially recruited as a walk-on, ISU soon thought better of that.
“He committed to come as a walk-on for a year and then be a scholarship player for four years, but we got smart and gave him that scholarship that initial year,” said ISU coach Greg Lansing, an assistant coach on then-coach Kevin McKenna’s staff at the time.
Along with fellow walk-ons Lucas Eitel, Logan Eitel and R.J. Mahurin, he worked on ball-handling drills (all four dribbled the ball up the floor together during practices) during McKenna’s final season as ISU coach.
Among Odum’s teammates during his redshirt season are long-gone Sycamores like Rashad Reed, Brant Leitnaker and Josh Crawford. The joke goes that Odum was once teammates with Larry Bird.
“I had someone at our Monday luncheon ask if it was truly going to be Jake’s last regular season game because it seems like he’s been there for six, seven or eight years,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. “He fits into the category, as an opponent, for how well he’s played, because of his ability to impact his team in terms of where they finish and how they do.”
He earned his first career start in his third career game against Eastern Kentucky in Chicago on Nov. 14, 2010, but his impact was first felt in a game at Oral Roberts a week later where he made several key plays in a 74-69 road victory. From there, he was cemented as a team leader and helped ISU unexpectedly contend for the MVC title in 2011.
After co-leading the MVC at the midway point of the conference season, ISU fell to third place, but a spirited MVC Tournament run put ISU in the NCAA Tournament where it lost to Syracuse.
The team’s high’s haven’t been quite so lofty since, but despite a penchant for late-season struggles, in the overview, ISU’s program has been in far better shape than it was prior to Odum’s arrival.
“I was here, as an assistant, when our reputation around the state wasn’t very good, that’s school and basketball program. Now that’s completely transformed and I think it has a lot to do with the basketball program and Jake Odum,” Lansing said.
That’s reflected in his numbers:
— He’s played more games (129) and has had more consecutive starts (125) than any player in ISU history.
— Odum has converted 565 career free throws, best in school history, suceeeding long-time record-holder Larry Bird.
— Odum has 581 career assists, second-best in school history. Odum is the only player in MVC history with 500 made free throws and 500 assists.
— He has 199 steals, fourth-best in school history. Odum has 1,495 points, seventh-best in team history.
— ISU has never won fewer than 18 games in any of his four active seasons. ISU had never had a run four seasons or more of 18-plus wins in school history until now.
“He’s certainly had a tremendous impact on what they’ve accomplished in his tenure there. Any great player is judged on his ability to make those around him better. I’m not sure anyone around the league has done it as well as he has,” Evansville coach Marty Simmons said.
He did it all while playing hurt for much of his career. Plantar fasciitis wreaked havoc on his sophomore season. Knee problems have hampered his current season. Those are just the major pains. He’s had too many other “minor” ailments to contend with as well.
Odum goes about his business in a manner that would likely have made him a fan favorite regardless of his status as one of Terre Haute’s native sons. Odum has gained attention for his unique bearded look, one Lansing once likened to “Dwight Schrute’s cousin” from the TV show The Office.
His flair has dazzled, especially in the pre-injury phase of his career, when his repertoire of off-balance and no-look passes had defenses flummoxed. He’s become as well-known as any ISU player has in opposing MVC arenas for many years and is grudgingly respected by many enemy fans.
“He’s got enough flair to his game where fans outside of Indiana State are attracted to, and enjoy, watching him play. You just don’t like being on the other side of it,” Jacobson said. “They know that Jake is going to do something to impact the outcome and that outcome is usually going to go Indiana State’s way because of how he plays. That’s one of the best things you can say about him or any player.”
One of the best things a player can also do is finish on top. Ever-focused on the task at hand, Odum wants to make sure the last chapter in his Sycamores book is written right.
No one wants an unhappy ending.
“We have to sit down as a group and figure out what direction we’re going in. We don’t have much time, but we’ll figure it out, we have a solid group of guys. We have to stick together,” Odum said.
ISU point guard has made huge impact on program
TERRE HAUTE —
If you compare a college basketball career to a book, Indiana State point guard Jake Odum has been a page-turner from day one.
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