Odom schooling the Rams

Wednesday, June 28th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SOUTH KINGSTOWN -- Lamar Odom remembers the sweaty palms, the shaky nerves and the rumors swirling around his future like hungry buzzards.

Exactly one year ago, Odom's life was dominated by these symptoms. As one of the premier talents in college basketball, the University of Rhode Island star knew someone would select him quickly in the NBA draft. Which team selected him was very much in doubt, but Odom didn't really care. He only knew he was living a dream.

"You have butterflies, anticipation, everything like that. It's one of the greatest moments of your life," Odom said. "I wish I could go through it again. It was great, everything you always dreamed about since you were five years old."

Kenyon Martin, Stomile Swift, Marcus Fizer and a few others will realize the same fate in tonight's NBA draft. Those three college stars should be among the first five names commissioner David Stern calls out. Last year, Odom went fourth, to the Los Angeles Clippers.

In fact, there's a chance one of those players will join Odom on what Sports Illustrated recently called "the worst franchise in sports." The Clippers hold the third and 18th picks in the first round. What would Odom like to see added to one of the NBA's perennial doormats?

"I just want a competitor, someone who'll come to play every night," he said. "I don't want someone who'll quit and not play with a sore foot or something. That's not what I'm about."

While Odom sits and waits to find out who his newest teammates will be, he's back in Rhode Island, settling in for a planned month's stay in South County. He's officially here to work as an instructor at the Jerry DeGregorio Basketball Camp. But he says he's mainly around to help the Rams' coach and "make sure what happened here last year doesn't happen again."

Odom is referring to URI's ugly 5-25 season, DeGregorio's first as head coach. Odom knows anything close to that result can't repeat itself or one of his closest friends in life will be out of a job.

"If he loses and he's a nice guy, that doesn't make the cut. He knows that," Odom said. "But that's why I'm here. Before I leave this summer, I'll place my will on these guys. They need to be together and be best friends. That's a team. I'll make sure of that."

DeGregorio is grateful for Odom's help. On Monday night, several Rhody players joined Odom in a spirited late-night hoops war. Alums Antonio Reynolds-Dean, Tyson Wheeler and Josh King also will join in this week.

"Those games are great for Brian Woodward, Howard Smith, Andre Scott, Zach Marbury, all the guys who'll be here for summer school," DeGregorio said. "Lamar said he wants to help. I'm gone recruiting next week, so he'll push these guys hard."

DeGregorio and Odom are very close. The coach calls the 6-foot-10 star "my son," and dishes out advice and counsel often. But, last winter, the two were stuck in the same ugly, horrible predicament. Like the Rams, Odom's Clippers lost a lot. So much so that Odom struggled getting ready to play hard every night.

"I was in the losing hell myself," Odom said. "I'd call Jerry a lot. It was tough on us. Especially with me saying, 'I could be (at URI) and really help all the areas where Jerry's struggling.' I just hope the players here realize things can change so fast. We went from winning the Atlantic 10 and being in the NCAAs to nothing. Everything can change quick."

Even though Odom is the same age or younger (20) than most of the current Rams, he's not shy about dishing out advice. Tavorris Bell will be a junior this season, and Odom says, "Tavorris has to act like a veteran." Marbury, who'll be helped in the backcourt by recruits Dinno Daniels and Woodward, "is a leader naturally. This team needs a leader, and Zach can do it."

The fact that the Rhody program has slipped so far off the college hoops radar screen is directly tied to Odom's decision to leave school after his sophomore year. He says URI boosters need to give DeGregorio the time to get the ship back on track.

"You had to expect a dropoff with coach (Jim) Harrick leaving," he said. "Everyone knows Jerry can work here. Jerry can recruit and get the job done with his connections. With this opportunity here, some good things can happen."

Odom doesn't sound as convinced about his coming season with the Clippers. The team could lose Maurice Taylor to free agency, only the latest in a long line of players to cruise through Clipper Land and leave for greener pastures. The team is likely to pick a point guard with its second first-round pick, and Odom is hoping the Clippers take either Craig Claxton (Hofstra) or Erick Barkley (St. John's). Both are former high school teammates of Odom at Christ The King in Queens. That move might help keep Odom happy.

"I have to be honest, it's tough being a Clipper," said Odom, who averaged 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds last season. "I just want to see progression. You can't be one of the worst teams and let good players go."

Odom could be free to leave town after the 2002 season. A move east can never be ruled out for the native New Yorker. What would it take to have him remain in L.A., in the shadow of the Lakers?

"If I see progress, I have no problem staying," he said. "L.A. is great. I like it. But everybody wants to win."