This marks the 30th anniversary of USA TODAY recognizing the nation's top high school athletes. As we prepare to unveil the 2013 American Family Insurance ALL-USA Boys Basketball Team at the end of the season, we'll dig into the archives and check in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades. Today, we catch up with 1992 ALL-USA player Rodrick Rhodes from St. Anthony (Jersey City), who played for Kentucky, Southern California and for three NBA teams.
Rodrick Rhodes took a twisted road to become a high school basketball coach.
Rhodes, 39, just finished his second season as the boys basketball coach at Cordia. Situated in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, Cordia has less than 125 students in grades 9-12. It’s not exactly Jersey City, where Rhodes grew up and played for St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley, and it certainly isn’t the NBA, where Rhodes played three seasons with the Houston Rockets, Vancouver Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks.
“When I first got up here, I was terrified,” Rhodes said. “I would be driving 10 miles per hour up a mountain and somebody would come by me going 35-40 miles per hour. I thought they were literally out of their mind. What you realize after a while is no one is up in these mountains who doesn’t know these roads.”
A 6-6 forward, Rhodes played three seasons for Rick Pitino at Kentucky, averaging 12.2 points and 3.4 rebounds a game, before transferring to Southern California, sitting out a year and averaging 14 points and 4.9 rebounds a game as a senior. Taken by the Rockets as the 24th player overall in 1997, he was out of the league by 2000. For the next three years, he played professionally in Cyprus, Greece, the Philippines, France, and Puerto Rico and finally with the Brooklyn Kings of the USBL. When his pro career was over, Rhodes wanted to stay in the sport.
“It doesn’t surprise me when guys who live basketball their whole lives find comfort in being a coach,” Hurley said. “As a kid, (Rodrick) loved basketball. He went to all the camps and did all the basketball stuff. He loved to play and he’ll try to translate that to the kids he’s coaching.”
Rhodes’ first coaching job was as a college assistant at St. Edwards in Austin, Texas. From there, he spent short stints at Idaho State, Massachusetts, Seton Hall and Texas Pan-American in Edinburg, Texas. Concerned he wasn’t really moving up, Rhodes decided to take a step back when the offer was made at Cordia, which had gone 7-16 the season before.
“When I came down here, it was definitely something to springboard me to the collegiate level,” Rhodes said. “Once you start getting involved with kids' lives, the job takes on a life of its own. … You just get to change lives at this level. You get to see the players grow as players and as people.”
Though Kentucky is known for basketball, Rhodes said hunting comes first in rural Cordia. Last season, the Lions finished 11-18, an improvement, but they had several 30-point losses and one 90-point defeat.
This season, Cordia gained two transfers from Canada, Emmanuel Owootoah and Marlon King, and after they were initially denied eligibility by the state high school athletic association, a judge ruled in mid January the guards could play. They made an immediate impact as a team that had been 8-6 finished the season on an 11-4 run.
The new players, both of whom are of Caribbean descent, were also considered the targets of Facebook and Twitter posts during the district tournament that showed the Canadian flag being burned and a Canadian flag with a noose.
“It’s unfortunate they had to experience that but with social media, you can't hide things from them,” Rhodes said. “The players brought it to my attention. As a coach, you try to keep the focus on task. It probably came from somebody who played for a rival team or was a supporter of a rival team. What I preached to the kids was to use this as a chance to rally and come together as a team.”
The Lions finished 19-10, their best season in six years, losing 59-57 to Perry County Central in the District 14 semifinals. Among Cordia’s playoff wins was a 73-43 defeat of Letcher County (Whitesburg), a team that had ended the Lions’ season with a 81-32 thrashing in 2012.
“Last year, when the season was over, the kids were running out of the locker room,” Rhodes said. “This year, the whole team was crying and the whole coaching staff was crying. I knew we had changed some lives in that locker room because of the emotions. It makes me more hungry to get in the gym in the summer.”
Rhodes won’t have far to go. He lives right across the street from Cordia’s gym. He said he’s gleaned different philosophies from the coaches who have had an impact on him.
“From Coach Hurley, I learned not to settle for being mediocre at anything, whether it is throwing a bounce pass or the way you post up,” Rhodes said. “From Coach Pitino, I’ve learned to get the most out of players through conditioning. When you condition minds and bodies, it’s unbelievable what you can accomplish. From Henry Bibby at Southern Cal and Rudy Tomjanovich at the pro level, I’ve learned how to be a player’s coach. I also learned from Ryan Marks at Texas-Pan American, with the way he built his team with a family atmosphere and the way he trusted the parents.”