by Aaron Garcia
Though he was hired in May, the Jim Rhodes era at Porter Ridge begins in earnest this week when he takes his new Pirates team to Guilford College to participate in the Battle of the Border team camp. A former Division II star at Kansas’ Fort Hays State University, Rhodes cut his coaching teeth as an assistant at Mint Hill’s Independence High before a seven-year tenure at Charlotte’s Hickory Grove Baptist Christian School. Union County Weekly sat down with Rhodes to discuss his plans for the Pirates program.
Q: What made you want to leave the private school ranks to come here?
A: Well, there was a 30-minute drive one way (to Hickory Grove) and an hour commute (overall). This is my home district and there are kids in my neighborhood that I could potentially be coaching. My oldest son (Reed) is starting kindergarten next year, so with that whole dynamic, this was a better fit for us.
Q: With this being your second job, what are some of the experiences you’ll bring with you to Porter Ridge?
A: I think X’s and O’s, I pretty much knew what I was getting into. But game management, program management were huge things. Game management – learning how to talk to the refs, what to do in certain situations. As far as what plays to run when, maybe even what plays to run according to who’s scouting us or what teams are running so we can have different sets the second time we play a team. Those kinds of things.
Program management – as simple as collecting uniforms and getting everybody together on the same page and communication with parents. When you’re a head coach, all that is on you. I think learning all of that, sometimes that’s as important as X’s and O’s.
Q: Is it going to be a huge adjustment for you coming from the private-school level?
A: No, I don’t think so. I think the biggest difference between public and private is there is a bigger gap between the best teams and the worst teams in private school. The good (private-school) teams are really, really good. But then there’s some teams that just don’t have the horses, where I think there’s more of a level playing field in the public schools. There probably won’t be many “gimmes” here at Porter Ridge, where in the private schools, there are some gimmes. That will be an adjustment a little bit. At Hickory Grove, I never dealt with not having the football players for a long time, which I think I will here. I think that’ll be an adjustment.
I don’t know how everybody plays here yet. I haven’t seen Sun Valley play, I haven’t seen Weddington play, so those are things I’m going to have to figure out.
Q: How do you see your experience at Independence feeding into this year?
A: My time at Independence was great, even though I was only there two years, but I was the head JV coach and varsity assistant, so I really had my hand in everything that was going on. I really think I learned a lot about running a program seeing how (the head coach) did everything there at Independence. I was second in command, but at the same time I was last in command, so I was sweeping floors, I was doing laundry and counting uniforms every day – doing the dirty jobs, so to speak. You kind of figure out what you want out of the program and the different angles you’d take.
It’s also good being an assistant coach because I think I learned a lot about what kinds of roles I want my assistant coaches to play, too.
Just being in a public school, kids are kids. I think individually you’ve got to learn how to motivate kids and a lot of kids are motivated the same way. Whether it’s public or private, kids are kids.
Q: What’s the biggest obstacle of taking over a program coming off a 2-22 season?
A: There’s three things I think we need for people to buy in: We need the players to buy into our system, I think the fans need to buy into what we’re doing by coming to support us, and, to piggyback off of the (players), I think the parents need to support what we’re doing. I think getting those three areas is going to be big.
As far as wins and losses, I think the previous coach (Jay Fitts, now an assistant at Forest Hills) and I have a different philosophy, so I really feel like I’m building from ground zero. So building up what we’re going to be doing on the floor is going to be hard, because we’re probably going to be doing something very different. But getting those kids to buy into it and the parents and the fans to buy into it, when they do see those wins, they’ll be excited about it. I think just building up and starting from ground zero is going to be the biggest challenge.
Q: How did it go when you met the team?
A: I thought it went really well. We met in the auditorium, and (Porter Ridge Principal Sam) Basden introduced me, and I talked to them about where I wanted this program to go and what I saw out of this program.
I told them, “Look at all the other sports teams at Porter Ridge – they’re very successful. There’s something special about Porter Ridge kids. We need to somehow harness that and get that in the basketball program.” We talked about, for me because I live in this district, (how) I feel like there should be some kind of family atmosphere here. I’ve got two little kids, and they’re going to be at our practices. My wife (Crystal) is a former coach, so she’s going to be at our practices. I want them to feel like an extended part of my family. There seemed to be some excitement. It’s been good. I’ve been received well so far. They’ve all been great to me.
Q: What kind of style do you want to run here?
A: I would like to be up-tempo and play fast, but I think a good coach plays the hand they’re dealt, so I’m still waiting to see if we can do that. If we can’t (play fast), we’ll make changes accordingly.
Q: Your wife won a state title as the girls coach at Hickory Grove. How much input does she give you?
A: I tell you what, we’ll sit at dinner and talk about plays and philosophies. She would be a great assistant coach, if she would do that. We talk about basketball all the time. She probably is a de facto assistant coach after going over film with me and stuff like that.
I’m not too proud to ask her opinion on something. I value her opinion. A fresh pair of eyes can do loads of good.
Q: Have you played H-O-R-S-E with any of the kids yet?
A: Not yet. I have a streak going that no player of mine has ever beaten me one on one, going (back) to (my) Independence days. That was when I just got out of college. I haven’t played any of these kids yet, but I’m getting older, so I might just let that streak end right now. Go out a winner. Go out on top.