Zac O'Dell was home from college when his younger brother Shane got the news that his basketball career at Schalmont High School and hope for a state championship had officially come to and end due to another cancellation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
"I felt bad for him," Zac O'Dell said of his brother, who closed out his senior season as the Sabres' all-time scoring and rebounding leader. "It was the first time in a while we [Schalmont] had a chance to get to the state final four, and I didn't think he was going to lose. My heart breaks for him."
Zac O'Dell had received a crushing blow late in his senior season, too, when his Swarthmore College team had its basketball season cut short after winning its opening two games in the NCAA Division III tournament. Shane's team won for the last time in the state regional semifinal round.
"It stinks for him, but he's been telling me it was a great run," Shane O'Dell said of his older sibling. "He scored over 1,000 career points, and this year, he made [third-team] All-American. He is the winningest player in their program's history. Of all the things he did, I think that's his greatest achievement."
Zac O'Dell and fellow senior Nate Shafer helped Swarthmore put together a 105-17 record for the best four-year stretch at the suburban Philadelphia school. The 6-foot-7 Schalmont graduate scored eight points and snared 13 rebounds in the last of those wins on March 7, when Swarthmore topped Ithaca 86-78 in the NCAA round of 32, improved to 28-1, and earned a Sweet 16 date with Whitworth.
"A couple days after we beat Ithaca, we were at practice, and coach [Landy Kosmalski] said we're not going to play this weekend. An hour later, he said the game got canceled," Zac O'Dell said. "It hurt a lot. We were all in the locker room. We thought we had a great shot at going to the national championship and winning it."
Swarthmore had reached the NCAA Division III title game in 2019 and lost to Wisconsin Oshkosh 96-82. Zac O'Dell preferred to focus on all that his team had done this season, rather than the lost opportunity.
"We were ranked No. 1 from the beginning of the year. We got everyone's best shot and trailed in a lot of games we won," said Zac O'Dell, who set a program record with 884 career rebounds and finished 12th on Swarthmore all-time points list with 1,178. "It was a great year. I love the guys on the team. I am proud of what we accomplished."
Shane O'Dell was the centerpiece on a Schalmont basketball team that won its first Section II championship game, and then its first regional game, in 24 years. The 6-6 senior scored 37 points to boost his varsity total to 2,028 when the Sabres knocked off Ogdensburg Free Academy in the March 10 regional semifinal and earn a state quarterfinal matchup with Saranac that never happened.
"After it was postponed, we tried to stay optimistic. We wanted to play," Shane O'Dell said. "When it got canceled, I was sad. All of the seniors were sad. At least we got to win the sectional championship. I am grateful for that."
O'Dell was among seven seniors on the Schalmont team that beat Mechanicville 53-46 for the Section II Class B title before its win over OFA. The Sabres, who had lost in Section II title games in 2018 and 2019, finished with a 19-6 record.
"I feel bad for all of the seniors," Schalmont coach Greg Loiacono said. "Obviously, there are bigger issues going on, but it would have been nice to complete our season. You want to play that last game, even if you go out with a loss."
A win that Shane O'Dell won't soon forget came on Jan. 31, when Schalmont rallied from a 40-18 deficit to clip La Salle 62-61.
"That's my most memorable game. Our only lead of the game was when Austin [Redmond] hit the layup with two seconds left," the 18-year-old said. "That was the turning point for us. A big confidence boost."
Zac O'Dell knew he was part of another special team when Swarthmore edged Ursinus 88-86 on Dec. 4 on two free throws by Colin Shaw with 1.7 seconds left. That game was tied 13 times and had 16 lead changes, and included a pair of key defensive stops before Shaw won it.
"Crazy game. We were down two players and just battled. It went back and forth and at the end we got a big block and a big steal," Zac O'Dell said. "I knew right there we were going to be a tough team to beat."
Swarthmore's only loss came against Johns Hopkins on a buzzer-beater 73-71 in the Centennial Conference title game. Swarthmore turned around and beat Brooklyn and then Ithaca to begin what it envisioned would be another long NCAA tournament run.
"When Landy was recruiting me he said we'd be competing for a national championship," Zac O'Dell said. "It came true."
A chemistry major, Zac O'Dell is on track to graduate in May. He has plans to attend graduate school at Temple, New York University or Boston College and pursue a doctorate in either physical or analytical chemistry.
"Looking forward to building more relationships," he said. "Looking forward to the research end. It's an exciting opportunity."
This season's Colonial Council and Section II Class B tournament MVP, Shane O'Dell is being sought after by New Hampshire, Colgate, the College of Saint Rose, Vermont, Davidson, Saint Anselm and Daemen, while prep school is also a consideration.
The middle brother in the O'Dell clan, 6-6 Jesse, completed his sophomore basketball season at SUNY Polytechnic Institute when his team lost in the semifinals of the NEAC tournament.