Sunday, April 25, 2004

Recruit Odia says visa the issue

College basketball insider

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Churchill Odia's public waffling between Xavier and Louisville has left his high school coach at Montrose (Md.) Christian frustrated because he has been removed from the recruiting process.

Head coach Stu Vetter expected Odia to honor his oral commitment to Xavier and sign with the Musketeers during the spring signing period, which lasts from April 14-May 19. Vetter usually advises his players to wait to sign a letter of intent until the spring to make sure the coaching situation is the same at the school. But though coach Thad Matta is still at Xavier, Odia did not sign at the beginning of the spring period.

Last week, Odia told the Enquirer that Louisville and Oregon State had entered his recruiting race. He visited Louisville earlier this week before playing in the Derby Classic Saturday in Louisville, where he won the 3-point contest. Reports out of Louisville indicate that the Cardinals might have moved ahead of Xavier as the leader on Odia's list.

That is what is so puzzling to Vetter. Odia has advisers outside of Montrose Christian guiding him at this point, the reason why he is not fully committed to Xavier. Vetter talks regularly with Matta and would like to see Odia honor his commitment to the Musketeers, with whom Odia signed non-binding scholarship papers in November. But Vetter is no longer involved in Odia's decision.

"That's the problem," Vetter said. "I don't really know what's going on."

Odia's recruitment has been unusual from the beginning because college coaches often had trouble finding him. Xavier was the first school to recruit Odia and established an early relationship. Then Odia played overseas for most of the summer before his senior year while other schools, such as North Carolina, tried to locate him. Xavier, meanwhile, kept its communication lines open with Odia, a 6-foot-6 point guard from Nigeria, who made his oral commitment in September.

It was far from over, however. Odia learned he would not be able to play his senior year at Montrose Christian until he dealt with his immigration problems. Vetter declined to talk specifically about the visa, citing student confidentiality rules. Last week, Odia said an administration change at Montrose this year forced him to re-classify his visa.

Odia's visa got hung up in paperwork, however, which led to his disappointment of not being able to play his senior year at Montrose. He has since said he would not sign with any school until he gets the visa problem corrected.

As the season progressed, and Odia remained ineligible, his advisers began inquiring into what his college options were beyond Xavier. That's why, in the middle of the spring signing period, he's visiting Louisville after the oral commitment to Xavier.

"It's been a difficult situation from the very beginning," Vetter said. "The entire process has been frustrating."

The longer Odia stays uncommitted, the messier the process seems to get. With the visa problems still unresolved, it might be a surprise to see him playing anywhere in November if he isn't signed by May 19.

RILEY-SMITH AT SOUTHERN: DeForrest Riley-Smith, who briefly transferred to Xavier from Penn State, has resurfaced at Southern University in Louisiana. Riley-Smith was expected to be one of Xavier's best offensive players next season, but left Xavier for Southern to be closer to his mother, who lives in New Orleans.

SELECT COMPANY: Xavier's Elite Eight run placed it in a group of seven schools along with Connecticut, Duke, Oklahoma, Purdue, Stanford and Texas that have sent men's and women's teams to the Elite Eight in the past five years.



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