WACO, Texas – Odyssey Sims became Baylor's starting point guard as a freshman and almost made it to the NCAA Final Four.
The Lady Bears had an undefeated national championship title when she was a sophomore. There was another tournament run to a regional final last season, which ended with a one-point loss and Sims agonizingly sprawled on the court with her face buried in her hands.
Now a senior, Sims is finally the headliner for the No. 7 Lady Bears — and they are still on top of the Big 12 even though the All-American is surrounded by mostly underclassmen instead of two-time AP Player of the Year Brittney Griner and four other seniors who departed.
"It's obviously Odyssey Sims' team," Kansas State coach Deb Patterson said. "And she can be very, very dominant with the ball now."
Already Baylor's career assists leader, the feisty 5-foot-8 guard is now second nationally averaging 30 points a game. Sims has four 40-point games and even when she was held to a season-low 17 points last month at Oklahoma State, she had the game-winning three-point play in overtime.
"My scoring role is different, but everything else is still the same," Sims said. "I'm still the same player, I just have the ball more."
Baylor swept the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles in each of Sims' first three years. Despite Sims being the Bears' only returning starter, they are leading contenders to do it again in her only season without Griner on the court with her.
"People who think that Odyssey Sims is in Brittney Griner's shadow don't understand the value of Odyssey Sims," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "Pound for pound, she is considered by many to be the best to ever play the game.
"When you're 6-8 like Brittney is, when you walk on the court you don't notice Odyssey Sims at 5-8," Mulkey said. "But when the ball is being tossed up, then you go, 'Holy cow, this girl is the real deal.' She's never been in the shadow of anyone."
And that assessment is coming from Mulkey, who herself was a tough-nosed guard while winning two national championships at Louisiana Tech and a gold medal with the 1984 U.S. Olympic team.
San Jose State coach Jamie Craighead, after Sims had 29 points and 13 assists against her team earlier this season, rhetorically asked if anybody really defends Sims.
"She's got to be the best point guard in the country, and probably the best player in the country," Craighead said. "You kind of catch yourself watching her."
A left-handed shooter, Sims is also a stellar on-ball defender that frustrates opposing ball-handlers with her aggressive style.
Sims became the only two-time women's basketball gold medalist for the United States in the World University Games when the Americans won again in Russia last summer.
"I'll go on record saying she's the best player in the country. I thought she was the best player in the country last year, and she's the best player in the country this year, too," said first-year Ole Miss coach Matt Insell, who was previously at Kentucky. "If I were coaching in the WNBA and I had the first pick, I'd take her because she's a winner."
The Lady Bears have lost only one home game since Sims and fellow senior guard Makenzie Robertson joined the team. That was a 66-55 loss last month to No. 1 Connecticut that ended the Lady Bears' national-best 69-game home winning streak in what is still the Huskies' closest game this season.
"She is having an unbelievable year," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of Sims. "She might be the best player I've seen on film this season; no question, no one even close."
Asked what she has left to accomplish with her college career winding down, Sims talked about winning another Big 12 title. As for a possible scoring title, she made it clear that she doesn't even care about individual accomplishments.
Sims played four varsity seasons in high school for former Baylor player Suzie Oelschlegel. Irving MacAurthur was the No. 1 team in the state, but Sims suffered a torn right ACL late in her senior season and needed surgery — nine months before her first start at Baylor. The Lady Cardinals finally won the Texas 5A state title in 2011, when Sims was freshman for the Lady Bears.
No matter what happens the rest of her senior season, Sims already has what Mulkey wanted her to have the most aside from the college degree she is scheduled to get in May.
"I wanted her to win a championship ... her senior year (in high school), that was her last shot at getting a state championship," Mulkey said. "I just wanted her to be able to say, 'As good as I am, nobody can say I haven't won a championship anymore, that monkey's off my back.' She didn't say that, but that's how you are identified in the realm of athletics, and I wanted her to be able to say I know what that feels like."