The Shadow League’s Championship Drive: Rod Strickland

During Final Four weekend in Houston, The Shadow League went behind the scenes for some conversations with some big names in the college basketball tapestry. In this next installment, we bring you College Hoops legend, former NBA point guard extraordinaire and current University of South Florida Assistant Head Basketball Coach Rod Strickland.

Only nine men in NBA history have ever dished out more assists than Strickland. That list includes some of the greatest floor generals ever, like John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Steve Nash, Isiah Thomas and Gary Payton.

Strickland surpassed legendary talents like Tiny Archibald, Mo Cheeks, Lenny Wilkens and Bob Cousy with his assist total, yet hes rarely associated, unfairly, with such greatness. He should be.

One of the greatest point guards ever, Rod hopped in my Buick Enclave for a ride around H-Town and shared some of his thoughts and insights on life and the game. 

With a hypnotic ability to handle the basketball that was reminiscent of Bruce Lees Nun-Chuck mastery, Rod Strickland earned his spot among the games untouchables, blending microscopic vision and an uncanny ability to make defenders evaporate during his mercurial forays to the rim.

His attack-the-rim game was accentuated by abnormal hang time, body control, an artists creative mind, the precognitive gift to see passing lanes before they appeared and the use of implausible kiss angles off the glass that allowed him to convert over big men, the precision of which an Oxford Geometry Professor would find baffling.

People have often compared Kyrie Irving’s game to Rod’s, which makes perfect sense stylistically. But on an even deeper level is the tangible connection: Strickland, who grew up in New York City’s Mitchell Houses with Drederick Irving, Kyrie’s father, is the Cleveland point guard’s Godfather.

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(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

In 1998, illustrious NBA point guard Maurice Cheeks said, The mark of any true player is that someone does not want to play against him. Im sure that guys around the league say that when they have to play Rod.

Growing up in the brick maze of 17, 19 and 20-story buildings that make up the Mitchell Projects, Stricklands upbringing was not characterized, as some would assume, by nightmarish visions of crack shootouts and the South Bronxs insidious poverty and violent decline of the 70s and 80s.

With older brothers Steve and Byron, both talented point guards, and an entire posse of families in Mitchell who could play some serious ball like the Howard, Cooper, Dean and Burnett brothers, among others, Rod was nourished in an oasis of hoops culture, surrounded by friends, family, two loving parents and a community that valued achievement.

Rod won a state championship at Truman High School in The Bronx, then spent his senior year in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia putting Oak Hill Academy on the basketball map, establishing a legacy that elite talents like Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Jerry Stackhouse and Kevin Durant would try to live up to.

After a brilliant three-year career at DePaul University, where he was a two-time All-American, Strickland played for 17 years in the NBA. 

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(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

His blueprint is all over the landscape of today’s NBA, having tutored and mentored a jaw-dropping succession of floor generals during his days as a college assistant coach at the University of Memphis and the University of Kentucky, like Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Knight and John Wall, along with his Godson Kyrie and others.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more installments from our series, The Shadow League’s Championship Drive from the 2016 Final Four.


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