From The Record, Fall 2017
In the midst of growing scandals that would eventually rock the college basketball world and take down one of the NCAA's most powerful coaches, not one but two Hampden-Sydney men received national recognition for their character and leadership in collegiate basketball. Russell Turner '92 and Ryan Odom '96 were named finalists for the 2017 Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award, presented annually by CollegeInsider.com to a Division I head coach "who achieves success on the basketball court, while displaying great moral integrity off of the court, as well."
That two Hampden-Sydney hoops players from the same era would go on to successful careers in the high-stakes world of Division I athletics is, of course, impressive—there are only 347 head coaches in all of Division I men's basketball. But equally impressive is the manner in which these Hampden-Sydney men have carried the College's mission into that world, passing on the lessons they learned about honor and excellence as Hampden-Sydney Tigers some twenty years ago.
The Big Time
Both Turner and Odom pursued careers in coaching immediately upon graduation from H-SC, but each took a different path to a head coaching position. For Turner, currently in his eighth season as head coach at the University of California-Irvine (UCI), the journey included assistant coaching positions at almost every level of competitive basketball: high school, college, and the NBA. In six seasons at Wake Forest University and four seasons at Stanford University, he made a total of seven visits to the NCAA Tournament and two appearances in the Elite Eight; six seasons with the NBA's Golden State Warriors saw two rounds of postseason play. And as a head coach, Turner was named Big West Conference Coach of the Year in 2014 and led UCI to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015.
Odom, on the other hand, has spent his entire career in collegiate basketball, almost exclusively at Division I universities. Seven years as an assistant coach at Virginia Tech and another five at UNC-Charlotte included two rounds in the NCAA Tournament; in his one year as head coach at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University, he took the team to the Elite Eight. Now entering his second season at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC), Odom was named the nation's top first-year Division I head coach in 2017 by CollegeInsider.com and led UMBC to its first three postseason wins in school history at the CIT Tournament.
After a year assisting legendary coach Tony Shaver at Hampden-Sydney (where he coached a young Durant "Dee" Vick '94 and an even younger Ryan Odom, helping lead the Tigers to the Division III Sweet Sixteen), Turner spent six years at ACC powerhouse Wake Forest under Odom's father, three-time ACC Coach of the Year Dave Odom. With that experience came the opportunity to develop one of the most decorated players to emerge from Wake Forest: future NBA-great Tim Duncan. Turner's time with the Golden State Warriors brought a similar opportunity to coach NBA-superstar Stephen Curry. "Not too many people have been lucky enough to work with two guys who have been two-time NBA MVPs," notes Turner. "Tim and Steph are both grounded with values that I admire, and that contributed to them being great teammates and successful people. Both are men of incredible character who have great minds for the game, a passion for basketball, and a focus on improvement."
Turner calls his time in the NBA "the most exhilarating and exciting of my life." He continues, "Coaching at that level was an amazing learning experience. The players are the most driven and committed I've ever seen, and they're appreciative of coaching." He left the NBA to return to collegiate athletics, however, believing that was where he could make a difference. "People ask me, 'What's it like in the big time?' I truly believe the big time is where you are. For me, if it's important enough for young athletes to engage every day, to work to improve, to accomplish something as a team, to work for something bigger than the team—that's big time."
For Odom, the initial draw to a graduate assistant job with the University of South Florida's basketball team was a chance to remain connected to the game he loves. "I wasn't ready to give the game up when my time playing at Hampden-Sydney was done," he says. And as the son of a now-retired basketball coaching legend, he was familiar with the profession. What began as a way to extend his time on the court quickly morphed into a calling, though. Odom explains, "First I loved seeing the other side of the game, then I began to understand the impact coaches can have on these kids at a meaningful time in their lives. That's not something I take lightly, and that's why I'm still coaching today."
In fact, it was character development that drew Turner back to collegiate sports after his six-year foray into the NBA. He explains, "Mentorship is a huge part of why I do what I do—but the NBA is a business that's entirely about winning. College sports are different; we're coaching guys at the time when their character and leadership qualities are developing. It's fun to help build qualities that will lead to more success, but it's also rewarding to teach guys to be resilient when they face a lack of success. More than wins and losses, what matters to me as a coach is to see improvement in the people I'm working with."