Nowadays, Kelvin Odih is one of the best high school basketball players on one of the best high school basketball teams in Rhode Island. He’s only 16, and he’s already getting scholarship offers from Division I colleges. He dreams of going pro.
But I remember Odih – which rhymes with Rhody – as the star of a different team in an entirely different sport: I was his Little League baseball coach in 2015. Like all the best athletes, he pitched, played first base and shortstop, and was a bit of ball hog – meaning he would field the ball and race across the diamond to tag runners out rather than risk throwing it to his teammates.
So when I showed up at LaSalle Academy’s basketball practice last week as the team prepared for the first game of the state tournament, I asked Odih if he had any memories from his baseball days nearly half his lifetime ago.
“Getting food at the concession stand,” Odih said with a wide grin. “And losing. We lost a lot.”
Mozzarella sticks and mercy rules. Sounds about right.
Odih isn’t doing much losing anymore. The 6′4″ junior plays forward for top-seeded LaSalle, which moved to 28-1 over the weekend with a blowout quarterfinal victory over St. Raphael Academy. The Rams advanced to the Final Four of the state tournament Saturday against Middletown, and they appear destined to take on rival Bishop Hendricken in the championship game Sunday. Both games are at the University of Rhode Island’s Ryan Center.
Late in the second quarter against St. Raphael, Odih executed a windmill dunk while getting fouled (he made the free throw) that seems destined to end up on the highlight reel that college coaches all over the country will see over the next year. He followed up with a rebound and put-back layup and a perfectly executed bounce pass to a wide-open teammate for easy basket to make the score 31-12.
You get the sense that the game comes easy to him now. The only thing he struggled with against St. Raphael was keeping his jersey tucked in. But Odih was quick to remind me that he isn’t a natural on the hardwood.
“I kind of stunk when I was 8,” he told me. “I got better when I was 10.”
Clearly I was holding him back.
Jackie Poulios, who runs the Zuccolo Recreation Center in Providence, calls Odih one of the most polite kids he has ever met in 37 years. He also co-signed that Odih couldn’t make a layup as a little kid.
“He was faster than everyone, so he’d get on a breakaway and the ball would bounce like a super ball off the backboard,” Poulios jokes.
Once Odih got his touch right (and stopped playing baseball for me), he led Zuccolo to the city championship. Poulios and LaSalle coach Michael McParlin say Odih has worked hard on his game, putting in long hours in the gym to improve his jumper and get stronger.
McParlin said Odih started making an impact at LaSalle as a sophomore, but he has blossomed into a star this season playing alongside fellow junior Joshua Ojuri. Odih and Ojuri are often the best players on the court during games, but in practices, they aren’t afraid to go right at each other.
Odih already has a scholarship offer from Sacred Heart University, but McParlin said he expects more offers to flow in this spring. He said Brown University is also interested, and Odih has the grades to play in the Ivy League. The New England Recruiting Report ranks him as the No. 1 player in Rhode Island for the class of 2024, and the No. 22 player in the entire region.
But first, LaSalle has some unfinished business.
The Rams won the Division 1 boys basketball championship in a 47-45 thriller over Hendricken last month, but they know that the open state tournament championship is the ultimate prize.
Since the basketball team last won a state championship in 2015, LaSalle’s girls basketball, football, baseball, softball, girls and boys hockey, girls and boys soccer, lacrosse, gymnastics, golf, cheerleading, and every possible version of girls and boys track teams have all won the big one – and there are banners right there in the gym for Odih and teammates to stare at every day.
It’s a hard motivator.
Win or lose, Odih knows he’s got plenty of basketball ahead – both on the court and from the sidelines.
He’s now coaching two different teams at Zuccolo himself, including his little brother’s team. Poulios said Odih is soft-spoken, but he leads by example. And when the younger kids don’t know about Odih’s game, “we tell them to search for him on YouTube.”
“No matter what Kelvin does in basketball, he’ll always have a home at Zuccolo,” Poulios said.
And if he ever wants to give baseball a try one more time, I could always use another assistant coach.