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Freshman Ogilvy has Vandy poised for big season

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A.J. Ogilvy concedes that he needed a brief geography lesson when Vanderbilt first began recruiting him in March of last year.

Growing up half a world away in Sydney, Australia, Ogilvy's knowledge of college basketball in the United States was limited to the usual suspects (i.e., North Carolina and UCLA) and a few of the schools some of his countrymen had attended.

So when Vanderbilt assistant coach Tom Richardson introduced himself to the towering Aussie 21 months ago at the Australian Institute of Sport, Ogilvy couldn't have told you the first thing about the Commodores' program. He'd never seen them play and, for that matter, didn't even know where Vanderbilt was located.

"We don't get a lot of American college basketball in Australia, maybe some of the [NCAA] Tournament games," Ogilvy explained. "But I knew right away that I felt comfortable with the Vanderbilt coaching staff. When you're coming this far to study and play basketball, you better be sure you like the people."

The Commodores' coaching staff liked Ogilvy the first time they saw him. They just hadn't known about him very long.

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, who has always thought out of the box in terms of how and where he recruited, got a nice assist from one of his best friends in the business. Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti, who was then the head coach at Utah, turned Stallings on to Ogilvy, who had been one of the Utes' recruiting targets until they used up their last scholarship on a junior college post player.

Giacoletti had become well-versed with the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra and some of the players there, and it started when Giacoletti traveled to Australia in 2004 to persuade Andrew Bogut to return to Utah for another season.

"I just happened to be talking to Kevin the day we got the commitment from the other kid and said, 'Hey, there's this kid at the Australian Institute of Sport you may want to check on,'" Giacoletti recalled. "I'm not sure A.J. got the notoriety he deserved, but he'd been well-coached by the coach there at the institute, Marty Clarke, and you could tell that he had all the tools to be a good player."

That's all Stallings needed to hear.

Richardson was on a plane to Australia soon afterward. Vanderbilt assistant Brad Frederick followed up a few months later during the summer, and Stallings braved the 17-hour plane trip in the fall. Ogilvy's other finalists were New Mexico, Saint Mary's and UNLV, and several other bigger-name schools tried to get in on him late.

"It wasn't hard to agree on him," Stallings said. "There was nothing not to like … a kid that big, that skilled and that good a kid."

Still, who knew Ogilvy would be this good, this soon?

Along with senior swingman Shan Foster, the 6-foot-10, 255-pound freshman has been a big reason for the No. 21 Commodores' 9-0 start, making them an easy choice for one of the most underrated teams in the country. They not only started the season unranked but also were picked to finish fifth in the SEC's Eastern Division in the preseason.

"The older guys are used to that," Foster said with a shrug. "We've been in that same spot pretty much every year that I've been here. You kind of expect it, and it gives us great joy to go out and prove people wrong."

It's no coincidence that the Commodores are one of only two SEC teams (two-time defending national champion Florida being the other) that have advanced to the Sweet 16 twice in the past four years. Stallings has quietly and without much fanfare elevated the program to elite status in the league.

Now he has a big man talented enough to take the Commodores to heights they've never been.

Ogilvy is averaging 19.6 points and 6.3 rebounds and shooting 70.1 percent from the field. He can score with both hands and catches everything thrown his way. He has a knack for getting to the free-throw line, and he can also make them. He's shooting 78.3 percent and has already been to the line 69 times in nine games, an average of 7.7 free-throw attempts per game.

Consistency hasn't been a problem, either. He's scored 16 or more points in eight of his nine games and 20 or more in five games.

When you start talking about the top impact freshmen in college basketball a month into the season, many of the names are familiar ones: Kansas State's Michael Beasley, Indiana's Eric Gordon, USC's O.J. Mayo, UCLA's Kevin Love, Arizona's Jerryd Bayless and Duke's Kyle Singler.

But Ogilvy deserves to be right in the middle of that conversation.

"He's good, really good, and going to get better," Stallings said. "Defensively, he's got some work to do. Rebounding, he's got some work to do. But the thing about him is that he's very competitive. He's physical. He really knows how to use his body. That's maybe the best thing that he does, uses his body.

"He's got a number of things that he's been taught and taught very well."

Ogilvy has been impressive enough that he and Stallings have already had the requisite NBA talk. Scouts are beyond intrigued. Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried spoke to scouts this summer about his team's upcoming SEC competition, and they assured him that Ogilvy was a first-round talent. And that was before Ogilvy had played in a college game.

Many scouts saw him this summer during the FIBA Under-19 World Championships. Ogilvy averaged 22.3 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting 69 percent from the field and 78.8 percent from the free-throw line in nine games for the Australian team.

One NBA player personnel director told ESPN.com this week that Ogilvy already solidly projects in the 14 to 20 range of the first round if he chooses to make himself available for June's NBA draft.

"And if he keeps playing like he has, he'll go up," said the personnel director, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I'd say he's just outside the lottery, but a lot of people are laying eyes on him for the first time. Another month from now, he may be in the lottery."

Ogilvy, 19, is enjoying college hoops and college life too much to get caught up in what his next move will be. He trusts Stallings and trusts his family to help him make the right decision.

"I think he's one of those kids that will not let outside people come in and influence him," Stallings said. "He will not let agents and people that shouldn't have a say in what he does tell him what to do. We've already talked about it, and he has more or less said to me, based on what I've told him, that when I tell him that it's time, then it will be time.

"One of the things he knows about me is that I have no desire to keep him here longer than he should be here. We'll talk about where he thinks he can go in the draft, where I think he can go in the draft. When he gets there, then it's time for him to go. If that's this year, then it's this year."

Ogilvy's greatest challenges are yet to come, especially once he gets into the teeth of the SEC schedule and faces sturdier and more talented post players.

"I think I still have a lot of improvement left," said Ogilvy, speaking with his thick Australian accent. "I still don't think I'm playing at the level that I'd be happy about. Once the team gets used to playing with each other and we get into the season more, then I'll be better."

Ogilvy and Foster have complemented each other extremely well. Heading into Wednesday's game at DePaul, they are the top two scorers in the SEC.

"People have to pay extra attention to him," said Foster, who's averaging 20.4 points. "Otherwise, he's going to score. That relieves the pressure off of me, and I'm able to get a lot more open looks. He's a lot better than I thought he'd be. His composure late in games is tremendous."

The truth is that Ogilvy's biggest adjustments have come off the court. He's still getting his hands around the differing American accents, especially the southern twang.

"I've gotten pretty good now," he said. "At first, I was looking really hard and would try not to be rude and ask them to repeat themselves."

Of course, everybody else loves hearing his Aussie accent.

In particular, he's frequently asked to repeat the words "banana" and "zebra". Ogilvy's pronunciations of "ba-NON-a" and "ZEB-ra" are always a hit at parties.

And, no, he hasn't taken a liking to country music and says he's still not used to what he calls the "cold snaps".

His roommate, freshman guard Keegan Bell, jokes that Ogilvy has a secret weapon to fight the cold weather.

"He's got this pair of boots," said Bell, shaking his head and wearing a sheepish smile. "I don't even know what they call them. They're these huge things, kind of like those boots the girls wear, but for guys. He lugs around in them, and they come up to just below his knees. They've got cotton inside them with what looks like suede material on the outside.

"I've never seen anything like them."

Bell, who will take Ogilvy home with him to Hazel Green, Ala., for Christmas, has never seen a freshman big man quite like Ogilvy and certainly not one as skilled as Ogilvy.

"He said back in the day that he used to be a point guard, and you can tell because he has such great court vision," Bell said. "He's so mobile and can go out on the floor and do so many things. That's what teams misunderstand about him. They think he's just a post. They push him out, and he can take it off the dribble."

Ogilvy's parents, Paul and Aileen, will travel from Sydney after Christmas to spend a couple of weeks in Nashville. They've planned the trip to see five of Ogilvy's games.

"My family is a big part of my life," Ogilvy said. "They've been there to support me when I've tried just about every sport -- tennis, swimming, soccer, rugby and Australian Rules football. But basketball was what I always wanted to do, and I'm glad they will be here to share in it some with me."

Stallings is glad to have a difference-maker in the paint, and whether he gets to coach him for one year or four years, the coach can't help but be excited about the future.

"We've not had that inside-outside thing, and now we do," Stallings said. "Both A.J. and Shan are playing at a very high level. As good as A.J. has been, Shan has been even better.

"I like this team."

And why not? With a little help from Down Under, the Commodores have been downright good -- and their best may be yet to come.

Chris Low is a college football and basketball writer for ESPN.com.