Mike Rhoades is a basketball man. Just ask him.
“I don’t have hobbies. It’s basketball. It’s my family and basketball, that’s it,” says the father of three, matter-of-factly. “I know sometimes I have to golf. I don’t want to golf. I’ll go play with my kids or play pickup basketball now before I do anything else.”
It’s a mindset that was carved out on the playgrounds of his Pennsylvania hometown as boy, but has followed him throughout an impressive career. Rhoades gave himself to the game, and the game rewarded him. He’s been All-State, an All-American, a National Champion and a Coach of the Year. He was a college head coach at 25. Now, 40, Mike Rhoades has already accomplished more than some do in a lifetime.
Success has followed Rhoades at every coaching stop. After 10 years at the helm at nearby Randolph-Macon College, he brought his knowledge to VCU and the Rams have been the beneficiary ever since.
“Mike is an invaluable member of our coaching staff and a terrific resource for our student-athletes,” Smart said. “His work ethic, knowledge of the game and enthusiasm have contributed significantly to our success.”
In three seasons with the Black & Gold, Rhoades has helped guide VCU to the most wins, 84, in any three-year span in school history. The 84 wins are the eighth-most in the country over the past three seasons.
Every season that Rhoades has been on the sideline for VCU has seen the Rams reach the postseason, including back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2011 and 2012.
“It was an unbelievably special time for everyone involved with our program and it’s something my family and I will never, ever forget,” Rhoades said.
Not only does Rhoades bring an incredibly high basketball IQ to the staff, but he’s been an invaluable recruiter, helping bring in some of the best non-BCS recruiting classes in the country.
“Mike’s intense and he has a toughness about him that belies his kind and caring personality,” Smart said. “He has an intensity on the floor that in some ways reminds me of Billy Donovan’s. I really value that, because let’s face it, if we want our players to be intense and competitive and tough, then we have to be that way too.”
Rhoades lives just 20 minutes away from VCU, but his first meeting with Smart came in Detroit, at the 2009 Final Four. Just days later, Rhoades accepted an offer to join Smart’s staff.
“I had some opportunities over the years, but I just felt like it was the time and it was the place I wanted to be,” Rhoades said. “At this point in my career, it was time to follow through in my career with something I wanted to do.”
It didn’t take long for Rhoades to adjust to his new locale at Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
“Kids want to be coached,” Rhoades said. “People say things about the kids of today, I don’t buy any of it. These guys at VCU, they want to win. The program is bigger than any individual. They want to be successful.”
Rhoades graduated from Lebanon Valley in 1995 with a degree in history and promptly went to work on his basketball career.
In the summer of 1995, he was invited to the Phoenix Suns summer camp, but NBA owners locked out the players in July. Rhoades took his ball went to France for what he calls, “a brief stint,” before he was let go. Rhoades worked as a substitute teacher and aimed for another shot at the pros, but a broken ankle that February convinced him it was time to move into coaching.
In May of 1996, Rhoades interviewed for and accepted a position under Hal Nunnally at Division III Randolph-Macon in Ashland, Va.
Rhoades spent three successful years under Nunnally, but in March of 1999, the longtime coach had to retire due to a myriad of health problems. Nunnally went to the school’s president and recommended Rhoades, who would agree to take over the storied Yellow Jackets’ program before his 26th birthday.
“That was the question, is he ready,” Rhoades said of his hire. “But when I was 20 years old as a junior in college, I was sitting in the office with Coach (Pat) Flannery watching tape. In the summer, my summer job was basketball camps. I’ve never had a real job to this day. So, I thought I was ready. I knew what I needed to do.”
Apparently, Rhoades was right.
In 10 seasons, the Yellow Jackets were 197-76 and made four NCAA Tournament appearances. During the 2002-03 season, Randolph-Macon grabbed the nation’s No. 1 ranking for several weeks, captured the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Sweet 16. Rhoades was named ODAC Coach of the Year, his third such honor, as well as NABC South District Coach of the Year and State Coach of the Year by the Richmond-Times Dispatch.
“The qualities that Mike possessed as a player lend themselves well to coaching,” says Flannery. “Mike could have gone out and got 40 points every night, but there’s night’s he’d go out and get 15 assists, or that he’d be the best defensive player on the floor. He learned the game right and he knows what it’s about.”
How did a 26-year old guy with just three seasons of coaching experience under his belt achieve so much? With players that are willing to outwork everybody else.
“Of course you always have to see the talent,” Rhoades said. “But I also want that kid that has an edge, that’s very competitive, hates to lose, but knows how to handle it. I just think, if kids aren’t afraid to compete and have that edge about being successful, they’ll find a way. I love tough kids.”