It is often said that basketball is life in the state of Kentucky. Most of the time, that sentiment exists to describe the level of fandom that exists surrounding chief rivals in the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky, but there is an unmistakable fervor that exists for hoops at the high school level, as well.
Rodrick Rhodes has a keen understanding of both worlds, though not in an overwhelmingly positive light when it comes to his experience in the high school ranks. The now 43-year-old former professional basketball player appeared alongside the likes of Jamal Mashburn and Antoine Walker while wearing blue as a member of the Kentucky Wildcats in the 1990s. Rhodes played three years under Rick Pitino before transferring to USC and later joining the Houston Rockets as a 1997 First Round draft choice. Prior to that, he was a top-flight recruit from St. Anthony’s High School in New Jersey, where he was tutored by another full-fledged legend in Coach Bob Hurley.
Perhaps influenced by Hurley, Pitino, and former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjonovich (among others), Rhodes gravitated toward coaching after his playing career concluded. In 2011, after years spent as an assistant at the collegiate level, Rhodes was hired to take over a fledgling basketball program at Cordia School in Hazard, Kentucky. His impact was immediate with the Lions, but the team’s 7-16 record signaled that the rebuild would take some time. By his third campaign, however, Rhodes had led his team to a 20-win season. Cordia even captured the 2016 All “A” state championship, but then the bottom fell out.
After engineering a turnaround that would be the apple of any basketball coach’s eye, Rhodes’ contract with the Knotts County School District wasn’t renewed. Rhodes tells Uproxx that he was “shocked” and “in disbelief” when it happened, challenging the validity of the district’s claims about him. The story of what happened next is recounted in Us Against The World, a docuseries from Uproxx about Rhodes and the Cordia High basketball team, but we sat down with Rhodes to get an even deeper look at his story and the series.
Uproxx: What was your immediate reaction when you found out that the contract wouldn’t be renewed in Cordia? Specifically, with the language that came along with that news and the letter that was delivered to you?
Rhodes: I was shocked. I was shocked, I was in disbelief. It was a lie. It was a lie, so for me, yeah, I couldn’t believe it was happening. Yeah, I was just shocked. I’m still shocked, to this day. I was just shocked.
How would you describe your overall coaching philosophy and how does that coincide with your mission to mentor the kids that you had in Cordia and help them to grow?
Well first, it starts with a culture and the culture starts with love. We’re trying to teach the kids to love themselves. That’s the first thing in our program. To love yourself. The kids that we would get and that we got in the past are kids that came from broken homes, with dysfunctional backgrounds, rough neighborhoods, rough areas and their eyes have seen a lot of things that they probably shouldn’t have seen at their age. Our first objective is to teach them to love themselves.
How did playing for a legendary coach at the high school level in Bob Hurley shape the way that you think about the game and how you approach what you do as a coach?