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GARY WASHBURN | SUNDAY BASKETBALL NOTES

The ultimate win for Rodrick Rhodes? A thank you from a former player

Rodrick Rhodes was a standout player at Kentucky before transferring to Southern Cal for his senior season.Dave Martin/ASSOCIATED PRESS/File 1995

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Some retired NBA players go straight from the court to coaching roles, or even head coaching jobs in the cases of Jason Kidd and Derek Fisher. Others have to start from scratch and build their coaching reputation, especially those without storied NBA careers.

Rodrick Rhodes wants to be a college coach. He spent five years coaching at Cordia High School in Hazard, Ky., which is the subject of an Uproxx.com reality series on its journey from an also-ran program to a state power under Rhodes.

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Rhodes, 44, built his program with a series of transfers, and the school was even placed on two years’ probation during his tenure. But Cordia came back to win the Class A title in 2016. That was Rhodes’s final season. He is currently an assistant coach at Northwest Nazarene, a Division 2 university in Nampa, Idaho.

Rhodes was a standout player at Kentucky before transferring to Southern Cal for his senior season. He was a first-round pick of the Rockets in 1997 but played just 72 NBA games before heading overseas. Since then, Rhodes has held various coaching jobs, but his time at Cordia was an enriching experience.

“It’s been some hardship involved but it’s been all worth it,” he said. “Because the kids that I was able to mentor and be a part of their lives, we still have a great relationship and those kids were able to move their lives in a positive manner.”

Rhodes, a native of Jersey City, N.J., who played for famed coach Bob Hurley at St. Anthony, had several NCAA jobs before heading to Cordia.

“I was at the University of Texas-Pan American and I really just got burned out on the college scene,” he said. “And to be honest, I wanted to be a head coach. So I literally went on Facebook and posted ‘Looking for head coaching jobs in the NAIA, Division 3, or high school in the state of Kentucky, New York, New Jersey, Texas, or California.’ Cordia was one of the schools that reached out.

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“It was a perfect fit for both of us.”

Rhodes said he related to the Cordia kids because of his rough upbringing. He was 8 when his mother died. He was raised primarily by his older sister.

“I knew these kids were great people, but I knew they didn’t get a lot of love,” he said. “No one told them how smart they were, [that] you can do anything. I knew that was the spark a lot of those kids needed. It goes back because that’s what somebody did for me. I was a kid who was shy, who didn’t think much of myself, but I had coaches and I had a grade-school teacher who always made me feel like I was smart.”

Coaching in the NBA or at a high-level college may bring the big bucks and more exposure, but Rhodes said the fulfillment of coaching kids from difficult backgrounds and helping boost their self-esteem and confidence was enriching.

“Basketball was the hook, but it was always bigger than basketball,” Rhodes said. “Then we started teaching them about discipline, accountability, about loving themselves, about caring about the person next to you.

“The whole program was about love at Cordia. We coached the kids hard. Pushed them. We demanded excellence. But afterwards we gave them love. We hugged them. I’m going to push you on the basketball court but afterwards you can come to the house and get a bite to eat. It’s never personal; I’m just trying to help you reach your greatness.”

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Rhodes said he began bonding with the kids by first giving them a handshake, followed by a hug. Most of his players weren’t accustomed to such affection, so they would put an arm between themselves and Rhodes during the hug.

“By the end of the year, they were hugging me and grabbing my head,” he said. “That’s what happens at the end of the process as we build the love for one another.”

Rhodes was accused of recruiting during his Cordia tenure and heard critical remarks from parents from opposing teams as the school improved its record and advanced in the Kentucky state tournament.

“We didn’t have McDonald All-Americans, this wasn’t a school where we were bringing in these phenomenal basketball players, that was not the case,” he said. “No one was giving us credit for how hard we were working, how I was pushing the kids. They made them seem like star players, but it was a lot of hard work, a lot of coaching, a lot of mentoring.

“It was a lot of times where I would have to bring kids to my house and have conversations with them because they wanted to quit because they didn’t understand what I was trying to get accomplished. They never saw all that stuff that was going on between me and the kids.”

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One player Rhodes impacted was Anthony Nelson, now a senior point guard at South Kent Prep School in Connecticut who has scholarship offers from Dayton, Seton Hall, Clemson, West Virginia, and Minnesota.

“The win isn’t in the scoreboard for us,” Rhodes said. “The win is if this kid has a family. Is he married? Is he taking care of his wife? Is he taking care of his kids? Is he going to church with his family? And he calls and says, ‘Thanks, Coach, for everything you did.’ That’s the ultimate win. That’s what we were trying to be.

“If he sees me and my wife interacting, me and my daughter playing with each other, and he says, ‘OK, I can be cool and from the inner city and still be accountable as a husband and as a father,’ that’s what I wanted to show them.”

Life after the NBA was difficult for Rhodes. But he said coaching became his calling and he had to wash off his NBA identity and take on a new title as mentor.

“It was tough,” he said. “I had always been identified since I was 8 years old as a basketball player and my identity had gotten stripped. What am I good at? What do I do? For me it was an easy transition because what I enjoyed [doing] is basketball and mentoring kids. It was humbling but I knew coaching would be the obvious thing for me to do after I stopped playing basketball.”

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HAPPIER TIMES

76ers’ Brown now optimistic

This is Brett Brown’s fifth season as the 76ers coach.Winslow Townson/AP

Ahead of prior seasons, 76ers coach Brett Brown would be asked about the potential of his rebuilding franchise. He tried desperately to be optimistic but he fully realized many players were just filling salary slots and not part of the team’s future.

Last week, Brown addressed the 76ers’ future with much more confidence. They just signed Joel Embiid to a $148 million contract extension. Former No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons is healthy after missing his first season with a foot injury. Markelle Fultz is another top pick with mass potential, and the club added free agents Amir Johnson and J.J. Redick for leadership and experience. In a weakened Eastern Conference, the 76ers are good enough to win 40-plus games and reach the playoffs. The next step in former general manager Sam Hinkie’s process could soon take place.

“It is a great feeling and I get as excited for the city; the city of Philadelphia, it’s amazing, it’s no different than Boston,” Brown said. “I spent many, many, many years in [Boston] and its passionate fan base and they don’t hold punches.

“Although there’s great mysteries of how two rookie guards are going to [fare together] and the newness of some of our new guys. There is a conglomerate of unique pieces that make me feel confident, and I’ve gone public and I’ll say it here: Our goal is to make the playoffs. We get there’s a lot of responsibility and things that go along with that.”

Ben Simmons, Joel Emiid, and Markelle Fultz at 76ers media day.Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Brown was on the hot seat during the 76ers’ lean years, but he has remained eternally positive among the myriad injuries and countless losses. He is 75-253 over four seasons, a winning percentage of .229.

“It’s been important not to budge and remember why did you take the job,” Brown said. “You take things for a challenge or a threat and I took it as a challenge.

“And I’m not young anymore. The uniqueness of being able to come into a city and have a chance to put your own thumbprint on what our versions of culture look like doesn’t happen very often in life. This challenge and this opportunity was special.

“You’re surprised you were able to navigate through all of this but you were always reminded of why you took the job. That kept me grounded.”

The East is considerably weaker this season and the 76ers are likely to finish third in the Atlantic Division behind Boston and Toronto. Teams such as Chicago, Atlanta, Indiana, New York, and Brooklyn are in rebuild mode, giving Philadelphia a good opportunity to reach the playoffs.

ETC.

Analysts weigh in on East’s giants

Kyrie Irving is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high 25.2 points per game.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

One of the season’s top story lines will be whether the retooled Celtics can beat the retooled Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics introduced 11 new players into camp, including Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Morris.

The Cavaliers lost Irving but added Isaiah Thomas, who may not be back until January, along with Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, and Jeff Green.

ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy, one of the more popular voices in the business, watched the Celtics firsthand in their exhibition win over the Hornets on Wednesday. Van Gundy believes the Celtics could be serious contenders in the East.

“I think you don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves and anoint them or any team right now in the preseason. But the one thing I do believe is, even if Cleveland is totally healthy, I think Boston is far better equipped this year to match up effectively against Cleveland than they were last year,” he said. “They are huge on the wings. So if you just think about the overall size they added to their starting lineup, if they go with what appears to be Irving, much bigger than Isaiah Thomas, [Jaylen] Brown, and [Jayson] Tatum, much bigger than Avery Bradley and Crowder, and that ability to be bigger but not lose lateral speed and quickness I think gives them a very good chance. I think [Terry] Rozier continues to improve over his three years. I think he’s done a great job of just improving every year.

“And so I really like their team. I think they’re much better equipped to have long-term playoff success now than the team last year, even though that team last year, man, they were so impressive and they overachieved, and I loved the individual seasons that they got out of Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Crowder, but I just think for matchup purposes, they’re in a much better situation right now.”

Van Gundy’s broadcast partner, former NBA player and coach Mark Jackson, said the Cavaliers remain the best team in the East. And the Celtics will have to wait until the postseason to determine if they’re better.

“I think to me, Cleveland is still the favorite in the Eastern Conference, but if the Boston Celtics came out of the East I wouldn’t be shocked,” Jackson said. “They’re loaded, they’re talented, they’re deep. One thing I will say is I believe that they’re going to miss what Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder brought to the table, and that’s no knock on what they have, but you’re talking about in Avery Bradley an elite, top-notch, arguably the best-in-the-business on-ball defender that had the ability to guard scoring point guards and also shooting guards, whether they were in pick-and-roll situations or moving without the basketball. To me, they are going to miss those two guys’ toughness and their ability to defend, but they are clearly at worst the second-best team in the Eastern Conference and a dangerous team.”

Dwyane Wade is entering his 15th season in the NBA.Tony Dejak/AP

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers will have to adjust to life without Irving. Rose will take over at point guard (at least until Thomas returns) with Wade replacing J.R. Smith as the starting shooting guard.

“They’re going to miss [Irving], especially if Isaiah Thomas is not healthy,” Jackson said. “I think an underrated signing was Derrick Rose . . . This guy averaged 18 for the Knicks and had some bright spots last year. I think he’s going to have a breakout year and play extremely well in the absence of Isaiah Thomas, and then when Isaiah Thomas comes back, he’s a guy that can play alongside of him also.

“But they’re going to miss Kyrie Irving, his playmaking ability, his scoring ability, and as crazy as it sounds, I thought Kyrie Irving for three years now has done a very good job defending when it mattered most, paying attention to details, trying to stay at home with Steph Curry and make them work in the Finals. That’s a tall task for anyone, and I thought he did a very good job. But I think they’re going to miss him.

“But when you’re making trades in this league, it’s a give-and-take situation. I think it matters how healthy Isaiah Thomas is, and when he comes back that will make a difference.”

Van Gundy and Jackson agreed that Irving’s defense, especially in big-time games, was underrated. This preseason, there were stretches where Irving was a factor defensively. The Celtics will need him to play better defense to overcome the Cavaliers. But the Cavaliers also have adjustments to make.

“I think playing with LeBron James, when Isaiah Thomas does make it back, he’s going to have to adjust and adapt to that,” Van Gundy said. “I’m really interested to see how the Rose-Wade pairing in the backcourt works, not just offensively with their shooting but with their defense to start games. I think J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson, that situation [of shifting to bench roles], sacrifice sounds like a great thought in theory. I think most NBA players would agree that it’s necessary. But when it comes to individual sacrificing, it becomes a much more challenging situation.

“Obviously they’re probably not happy wanting to cover it up, but I think that situation also is important to monitor throughout the year.”

Layups

The Celtics have one roster spot remaining. Opening night rosters need to be set by Monday, meaning many quality players could be claimed early this coming week. The Celtics would like to add a big man and space eater in the paint . . . Tony Allen has spent his career seeking respect, and he finally received a big accolade last week when the Grizzlies announced they will retire his No. 9 when he retires. Allen, who signed with the Pelicans this offseason, played seven seasons with Memphis, dubbing the FedEx Forum the “Grindhouse” and earning the nickname “The Grindfather” because of his workmanlike approach and aggressive playing style. Losing Allen to the Grizzlies may be one of Danny Ainge’s biggest regrets. Allen was a free agent after the Celtics reached the 2010 NBA Finals and he wanted a three-year, $9 million fully guaranteed contract from Boston. Ainge would guarantee only two years. The Grizzlies offered three, and therein lies the beginning of the Grindhouse Era. Memphis coach David Fizdale wanted his team to get considerably younger, so Zach Randolph left to sign with the Kings and Allen left for the Pelicans . . . Nuggets guard Gary Harris was the latest fourth-year player to sign a contract extension and is the third first-round pick — along with Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins — to sign an extension. Other extensions for 2014 first-round picks are unlikely, and that includes the Celtics’ Marcus Smart. The 2014 draft is turning out to be star-crossed. Jabari Parker and Zach LaVine are recovering from serious knee injuries; Julius Randle missed his first season with a broken leg; Dante Exum may miss a second season with a shoulder injury; James Young, Mitch McGary, Jordan Adams, and P.J. Hairston are out of the league; and Bruno Caboclo and Josh Huestis are still waiting to make an impact . . . The Wizards struggled last postseason because they lacked depth. And they really didn’t address those needs. They are hoping that ex-Celtics D-Leaguer Tim Frazier can become John Wall’s backup at point guard. Three-point specialist Jodie Meeks replaces Bojan Bogdanovic, who signed with Indiana. But the Wizards essentially enter the season with the same roster as last season.


Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.