“You know they don’t take kind to all types of people coming into Eastern Kentucky.”
That was the warning a friend gave to Rodrick Rhodes when Rhodes decided to take a job coaching basketball at Cordia High School in Lotts Creek, KY. In the same breath, the friend figured Rhodes might actually have it easier, being seen instead of blue (the University of Kentucky color that he had worn when he played for the Wildcats in the ‘90s) instead of black. He perhaps didn’t expect that, in an area plagued with racism, Rhodes and Cordia High School would work together to not just make a winning basketball team but create a more diverse and accepting community in Lotts Creek.
The same friend also probably wouldn’t expect for Rhodes’ coaching contract not be renewed just four months after turning the Lions from the perennial losers that they were in 2012 to the All ‘A’ Classic champions that they became in 2016. Us Against The World is Uproxx’s documentary about both the issues that led to that decision and the aftermath.
Helming the documentary is director Trent Cooper, a filmmaker whose 20-year career includes an eclectic range of award-winning commercials, feature films, and documentaries. After spending the past year directing NFL Media’s The Conversation, a documentary on Colin Kaepernick’s protest of police brutality, as well as the Emmy Award-winning docuseries All Or Nothing for Amazon, Cooper came together with Uproxx Studios to tell the story of a Rodrick Rhodes and a disenfranchised Eastern Kentucky high school basketball team in Us Against The World.
We spoke with Trent Cooper about the experience — and struggles — of chronicling this story.
How did Us Against The World all come about? What drew you to this particular story, to this world?
Well, this is sort of a long story but it’s sort of awesome at the same time. I was doing research for ESPN 30 For 30 that I was preparing for them. It’s based on the greatest comeback in college basketball history. They call it the Mardi Gras Miracle. And the Mardi Gras Miracle was the University of Kentucky versus LSU in the mid-90s, and I think LSU was winning by like 32 points with 8 minutes to go. And Kentucky comes all the way back and wins at the buzzer, and in doing the research for that, I was looking at, you know, the cast of characters on the team. There was this guy, Rodrick Rhodes, who had been one of the big, big names on that team. And I noticed that he was kind of in the doghouse with the coach for a minute and he had been benched for a time during that big comeback. But he got back in and made a big shot or two. And I was reading a little closer and it said that he now coaches high school basketball and he just won a state championship. So I’m like, “Oh, this guy sounds cool, I’ll give him a call.”
I call him up, and he tells me all about the Mardi Gras Miracle. He gives me a great interview, just like you and I are doing right now.
And then I ask him about this state championship that he had just won two months ago, and he just gets really quiet. I’m like, “This makes no sense. Who wouldn’t want to talk about their [accomplishment]? Like, this is so fun to talk about, who wouldn’t want to talk about this stuff?” And I finally pull it out of him: He’d just been fired a couple of days prior to this and he starts to tell me about the circumstances that had led to that.