It's not the first time Odom has disappeared. He also went AWOL for two weeks and skipped his final exams in December 1997, before he was even admitted as a full-time student at Rhode Island. All was quickly forgiven, and Odom was granted extra time to make up the work he had missed.
In fact, rarely has a university so assiduously tried to placate a single star player. After coach Jim Harrick resigned on March 31 to take the head job at Georgia, Rhode Island named Odom to the nine-member search committee to find Harrick's replacement. Odom attended only one meeting of the committee, but on April 16 the school accommodated his wishes anyway when it gave the job to second-year assistant coach Jerry DeGregorio, whose only previous Division I experience was a three-year stint as an assistant at Hofstra. It didn't hurt that DeGregorio is something of a father figure to Odom and was the main reason that Odom came to Rhode Island after UNLV withdrew its scholarship offer to him in the wake of questions about his standardized test score (SI, July 7, 1997).
Petro says DeGregorio's appointment was not preordained, but the school's search for other candidates seemed a bit halfhearted. The only other people interviewed were former Charlotte Hornets coach Dave Cowens (who was offered the job but turned it down) and first-year Loyola-Chicago coach Larry Farmer, who had been an assistant to Harrick at Rhode Island two seasons ago. Even DeGregorio, 37, says it "never even crossed my mind" that he would be Harrick's replacement, though he's also making no apologies. "I believe I've paid my dues," he says.
Odom, of course, could make a mockery of the whole process by announcing this week that he'll turn pro. The deadline for entering the NBA draft is May 16. Rhode Island's need to have him back in a Rams uniform extends beyond next season's win-loss record. The school hopes in the near future to build a $50 million arena, a project that is being spearheaded by governor Lincoln Almond, a Rhode Island graduate. It is an ambitious undertaking for a school with such a modest basketball pedigree. Time will tell whether it was worth the cost.