Schalmont graduate O’Dell set to lead No. 1 Swarthmore men’s basketball

O'Dell is a preseason All-American
Zac O'Dell, right, is a preseason All-American.
Zac O'Dell, right, is a preseason All-American.

​Zac O’Dell appreciates the recognition, even if he’s not overly impressed with it.

“I mean, people haven’t even seen us play yet, right?” O’Dell said in a recent phone interview. “We want to be No. 1 at the end of the year.”

O’Dell, a Schalmont High School graduate, and his Swarthmore men’s basketball teammates almost pulled that off last season. To cap a program-best season, Swarthmore — located in suburban Philadelphia — lost to Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the NCAA Division III tournament championship game.

O’Dell, a 6-foot-7 forward, starts his senior season with Swarthmore Saturday at Eastern University, and expectations are high. Swarthmore was ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll and O’Dell was named a preseason first-team All-American selection after making the third team last season.

“I don’t think that’s anything you ever expect, necessarily, but we all saw [Swarthmore ranked No. 1] and we all got bombarded with texts from our parents and friends,” O’Dell said. “It’s cool, I guess, but it’s not something we want to put pressure on ourselves with.”

Swarthmore returns 12 players and adds six freshmen after going 29-4 last season.

“We’ve been going at each other for four months now between pick-up and practice,” O’Dell said. “So we’re excited to finally play somebody else.”

O’Dell, 21, averaged 13.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game last season. One of Swarthmore’s leaders, O’Dell said the team’s upperclassmen have made sure the team’s focus each day at practice has been on a specific way to get better.

“Putting that in your mind, I think that helps us maintain the right mentality,” O’Dell said.

Before losing in last season’s national championship game, Swarthmore put together a program-record 15-game winning streak to advance to its first-ever final. The team’s 29 wins also set a program record.

Including O’Dell, Swarthmore returns four starters from last season. The team has big goals in terms of where it wants to be at the end of the 2019-20 season, but understands from last season’s postseason run how much work it will take to reach them.

“Right now,” O’Dell said, “we want to come in every day and get a little bit better,” O’Dell said.​​​

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