The roses were meant to be the accent mark on the half basketball court behind the Odio house in Miami.
Mary Kay Odio planted them herself, and they went all the way around.
They called it the Rose Garden, and every Sunday the players and coaches from Barry University, where Cesar Odio remains head coach, would come over.
They’d play two-on-two or three-on-three, depending on attendance.
Without fail, Cesar’s only son, Eddie, would wind up on the court. It didn’t matter that he was playing against men that were big enough to toss him around — and did.
“The roses didn’t last very long,” Cesar said. “People got thrown into them. He learned from that.”
Cesar Odio was taught to play a certain way.
“I’ve been known for being the dirtiest player around,” he said.
He won a Division 2 national title at Florida Southern 32 years ago, and his coach, Hal Wissel, stressed the little things. Wissel hung pictures of his players in the locker room. One was of Cesar stepping out and taking a charge.
“The guy’s got his knee in my face,” Cesar said.
It was still laying around the house when Eddie was a kid. He kept it, played by it, lived by it.
When he and his dad played, the games started innocently enough.
“When he was younger, I wasn’t allowed to take it inside,” Cesar said. “All I could do was shoot jump shots.”
Before they went inside the house, they’d lower the rim and play another game.
“It got to the point where he wasn’t afraid to go in and dunk it on me,” Cesar said.
Then, all of a sudden, there came a point when Eddie was blocking Cesar’s shots.
“I was like, ‘When did this happen?’ ” Cesar said.
There came another point when Cesar had to step away from the Rose Garden all together.
“I stopped playing with him a couple years back, when I realized it might get ugly,” he said. “If I couldn’t beat him, I was going to beat him up.”
Eddie kept dunking.
“I don’t know where it came from,” Cesar said. “A couple years ago, all of a sudden he drove baseline and tomahawked it, and I went, ‘Where the heck did that come from?’ ”
Now, Eddie Odio has thrown down more dunks than anyone on the Boston College roster. One of them, a two-handed flush off an inbounds pass, landed him on “SportsCenter.” (Duke’s Tyler Thornton made an unfortunate cameo appearance underneath him).
But more than that, Odio has played with the same backyard edge, deflecting passes, chasing down fast breaks, hitting the glass hard, skying for rebounds, dunking them back in, diving for loose balls, and taking charges like his father because the hustle plays are a part of his basketball DNA.
“That’s what he was in college,” Eddie said of his father. “He was that hard-nosed sixth man who came off the bench and did all the small things. Took charges, dove on balls. I always try to play like he did. Play hard.
“I’ve always been a coach’s son, so those are things that I’ve grown up on — small plays, working hard. I’m obviously not going to come out here and score 20 points a game, so that’s where I earn my playing time. Those are my points — getting loose balls, rebounds, trying to create turnovers, things like that.”
In his second season, Eddie Odio has gone from energy player to cult hero at Conte Forum, where chants for Olivier Hanlan, the leading scorer among Atlantic Coast Conference freshmen, or Ryan Anderson, sixth in the conference in double-doubles, are dwarfed by howls for “O-D-O.”
“Eddie’s a fan favorite now,” Hanlan said. “He’s been having crazy dunks, and he’s just been playing with crazy confidence, so I’m happy for him.”
Odio is as unsuspecting as they come. His demeanor is quiet. His frame, when he arrived at The Heights a year ago, was slight.
Eagles coach Steve Donahue said, “I remember when we brought him on campus, people were like, ‘That’s an ACC player?’ ”
But Odio was athletic — his mother was a volleyball coach and he spent hours at her practices jumping around — with an off-the-charts hoops IQ.
Then, the need came. Donahue was looking for answers with his primary big man, Dennis Clifford, battling knee issues. He had players out of position. And he had the 6-foot-7-inch Odio on the bench.
“I’m going, ‘Eddie’s the guy,’ ” said Donahue.
About two months ago, Donahue pulled Odio aside and told him, “We need length and quickness and athleticism. We need you to play, you need to be a part of this. You’ve got a great opportunity.”
“Since that point,” Donahue said. “I think, he’s grown considerably. He’s made us a much better team.”
Over the last seven games, Odio has averaged 6.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, and 1.4 steals, adding ingredients BC desperately needs. In all the hustle stats, the Eagles are near the bottom of the conference. They’re last in blocks, next to last in offensive rebounds, ninth in steals, tied for eighth in forced turnovers. All of those things are a part of the chaos Odio tries to create.
“We need that characteristic,” Donahue said.
Over the same stretch, so many players have shot aggravated glares at Odio that he’s started to get used to it.
He mixed it up with Maryland’s Alex Len and Duke’s Mason Plumlee, premier ACC big men.
“There’s been some trash talk,” Odio said. “But I guess that helps just getting under the opponent’s skin and doing the small things that just kind of bug them and throw them off their game.”
Time appeared to stop Feb. 5 in a game against Miami. Odio got into a shoving match with Reggie Johnson, the Hurricanes’ anchor and enforcer, fighting for a rebound.
“I boxed him out a little hard,” Odio said. “He pushed back.”
By the look on his face after Odio’s shove, Johnson was expecting someone different.
“I wasn’t scared of him,” Odio said. “He’s a big guy, but I wasn’t going to back down in the middle of a game.”
Cesar Odio had a courtside seat and watched it play out. It was hard for him to hide his proud grin.
“That one made me chuckle a little bit, because he picked on a refrigerator coming down the lane,” Cesar said. “I had a smile on my face. If you don’t back down from Reggie Johnson, there’s a good chance you’re not going to back down from anybody.”
In that moment, it was no different from the pushing and shoving that made the Rose Garden a trampled mess but also a training ground.
“I loved that,” Cesar said. “I’ve always taught him, you’ve got to hit first before they hit you. It really doesn’t matter how big you are if you’re tough and you beat people to spots.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.