When head coach Mike Rhoades arrived on Rice’s campus, he was taking over a program that had not had a 20-win season in a decade. It took him just three seasons to break that drought. Rhoades, who inherited a 7-23 team in 2014 after former head coach Ben Braun resigned, led the Owls to an upset victory over Louisiana Tech University to improve the team’s record to 20-9. Rhoades said he is pleased with the development of the program after three years.
“People are expecting us to win now and that’s a great thing because that hasn’t happened here in a long time,” Rhoades said.
Rhoades came to Rice with prior coaching experience. He learned how to run a basketball program as an assistant coach for three years under Hal Nunnally at Randolph-Macon College before being given the reins for another 10 years as the head coach. During his tenure at Randolph-Macon, the Yellow Jackets made six appearances in the NCAA tournament, twice reaching the Sweet 16.
Rhoades then became the assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth University under Shaka Smart and helped build the basketball program, making four NCAA tournament appearances including one trip to the Final Four. According to Rhoades, his main takeaway from his experience at VCU was the mindset the coaches used to run the team.
“Make it a player-first program,” Rhoades said. “It’s all about the players and their growth moving forward. Winning is a byproduct of our daily approach and how we treat each other. Take care of those things and you give yourself a better chance at winning.”
Another huge priority for the third-year head coach is making sure the team performs well academically, often ending practice with a reminder to keep grades up. Rhoades said this attitude comes from growing up in a family of educators; his father was a high school football coach and teacher before becoming a state senator and his mother taught English for 31 years.
“Academics and education: That’s No. 1 on the list,” Rhoades said. “You can’t improve your life and you can’t grow if you’re not about learning all the time. I want them to know every day to get good grades. It’s personal to me.”
Rhoades, whose favorite meal is a sub at Jersey Mike’s, enjoys reading, watching “Billions” and “The Blacklist” on TV, catching the occasional Philadelphia 76ers game and going to the movies because he can turn off his phone and have no interruptions. However, at the end of the day, Rhoades said that it is back to basketball.
“I’m one of those guys late at night on my phone or computer just surfing the net trying to find more basketball stuff and ideas,” Rhoades said. “I love to read articles on players and coaches and share them with our guys.”
The former Lebanon Valley College graduate has homework too, which Rhoades said consists of watching a lot of game tape.
“A couple days before each game, I’ll watch our last game against that opponent,” Rhoades said. “Then, I’ll watch their last three games or games that are similar to our style of play. The scout coach and I will plan practice according to the team we play.”
After his preparation is complete, Rhoades said he will take a break from basketball by spending time with his two sons, Logan and Chase, and his daughter Porter.
“As soon as I’m out of the office that night, it’s all about my kids and my wife,” Rhoades said. “They [do] all sorts of different sports and clubs. I used to play a lot of pickup basketball but now I’m taking [my kids] to practice and playing football, baseball, lacrosse and basketball [with them].”
Rhoades said he believes work is the key to improving every day. According to the former All-American, the team is still young and shows a lot of promise for growth.
“[The season will be a success] if we keep getting better,” Rhoades said. “Why can’t we get better in the next week? If we play fast and aggressive, take good shots get each other shots, we’re a hard out for anybody. Anything can happen late in the year.”
Although there are no more home games this season, Rice still has two more games in the regular season against Marshall University (16-13, 9-7 C-USA) and Western Kentucky University (13-16, 7-9 C-USA). Rhoades said he was very happy with the increase of student support for the basketball team which culminated in a packed Tudor Fieldhouse for the last home game.
“I really appreciate guys jumping on board with our program and coming to the games,” Rhoades said. “I hope we get to a point where it’s just what the students do.”