- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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WACO, Texas -- Baylor's Odyssey Sims has that distinctive first name; her last name is no longer needed among women's basketball followers. Just say "Odyssey," and they'll know whom you're talking about. The funny thing is, though, it's not in any way descriptive of the kind of basketball player she is.
An "odyssey" is a wandering voyage, generally marked by at least some hardship or misfortune. Which is the exact opposite of what it feels like for a basketball team that Sims is directing as point guard.
That tends to be pretty smooth sailing, with very little uncertainty. But Sims is more than just a steady hand on the rudder. She's able to aggressively change the tempo, efficiently distribute the ball and score (sometimes a lot) when needed.
"When you're a point guard, everybody around you has to respond to you," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "It's your job to know every position on the floor, to use the right tone of voice with everybody.
"I'm hardest on the point guard not because I played that position, but because they have to direct that team out there."
Sims, who is averaging 13.1 points and 5.9 assists, is doing that well. And then (tah-dah!) there's Sims' defense. Which is a whole other dynamic weapon for a player who already has so many ways to hurt foes offensively.
Just as center Brittney Griner provides such a comfort factor for Baylor because she's so foreboding to face on the inside, Sims has the ability to discombobulate opposing point guards.
In fact -- although taking nothing away from the greatness of Griner -- Baylor's "motor" is Sims. Good evidence: The Lady Bears' lone loss this season came Nov. 16 in Hawaii, when Sims was hurt in the opening minutes against Stanford. She didn't return to action until early December.
That stumble against Stanford means that Baylor actually isn't the unbeaten team in the Big 12 as conference starts play Wednesday. Instead, that's 11-0 Oklahoma State, which like 10-1 Baylor ended last season with a victory. For the Cowgirls, that was in the WNIT, which they won.
Baylor concluded last season with victories over Stanford and Notre Dame at the NCAA Women's Final Four, where Sims had a combined 30 points, 7 assists and 11 rebounds.
Mulkey was very happy with Sims' play all last season. But still, it's only now that Mulkey unequivocally states that her junior is the "best" point guard currently in the women's collegiate game.
"She's had to earn that," Mulkey said. "I didn't say it when she was a freshman, or even last year after we won the national championship. But it's time to say it."
Baylor has gone 33-1 in conference play the past two seasons, competing with an unflappability that's heavily influenced by Sims' personality. You don't see doubt or uncertainty or hesitation among Sims' rather limited on-court display of expressions. She mostly wears a poker face that projects "supremely confident." Which is partly why
"Coming in, we bumped heads a lot," Sims said of Mulkey and her. "I just had to work on my attitude and understand where she was coming from. I had to understand the game.
"Now that I have more experience, we have a good relationship. When she's wrong, she's still right at the end of the day."
OK, that's hilarious. Not that Sims actually was trying to be funny. It was just her way of saying that she knows now that arguing with Mulkey is not only pointless, it's not smart. How many people have won national championships as a player, an assistant and a head coach, plus also have an Olympic gold medal?
Once Sims let go some of the youthful bullheadedness that many rising stars have, the partnership of coach and point guard flourished.
"Whatever she says, it goes," Sims said. "In practice, if I have a question, I ask her on the side, not in front of everybody. We know more about each other every day."
If asked to, Mulkey can reach back into her days as Louisiana Tech's point guard to remember what it's like to be running the show at that age.
"I'm not ever going to pretend to think I was the player Odyssey Sims is, talent-wise," said Mulkey, who actually was pretty darn good. "What I had the opportunity to do is lead an outstanding team, which Odyssey also has the opportunity to do.
"But she is also just so talented, especially on the defensive end of the floor. It's a joy, because you don't have to encourage her to pressure the ball. It's just something that she loves to do."
Sims has lost just four games in her college career, and only one during Big 12 regular-season play. Might the Lady Bears -- who open their league slate at Big 12 newcomer TCU -- run the table in their conference as they did last season? Frankly, it will be more surprising if they don't than if they do. Oklahoma State's perfect record thus far notwithstanding, it's not necessarily projecting to be an especially stellar season for the league overall.
That said, Baylor will keep the Big 12 in the spotlight. Which is where Sims has grown quite comfortable. A native of Irving, Texas, Sims arrived at Baylor a little more prepared to play the shooting guard role, but figured point guard was nothing she couldn't handle.
And she was right. Even if at the end of the day, Mulkey is still, uh, more right.
"I came in thinking I knew everything, but Coach had to slow me down," Sims said. "Every fast break, I wanted to shoot it. I had to learn how to manage the game. And also, learn to push my teammates in a positive way. Knowing on my worst day, I can't let them know it is my worst day."
12dBonnie D. Ford