Jan. 29, 2004
By Matt Segal
In a television-driven era when amateur athletes are constantly aspiring to make the next SportsCenter highlight, strong fundamentals are often a missing ingredient. Strong defense, proper rebounding techniques, superb passing skills and free throw accuracy are often times a lost cause because youngsters are too busy mastering the behind-the-back pass or attempting to perfect the next earth-shattering dunk.
Such is not the case with Chris Rhodes, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound, junior on the Ole Miss basketball team.
"Chris is a tough kid and an extremely hard worker," Rebels head coach Rod Barnes said. "He has really developed as an inside presence for us, especially on the defensive end. Chris has given us some more options and added depth this year. He really bangs on the inside and plays hard. He is fundamentally sound and, being a third-year member of this program, his experience is starting to pay off for us."
Very few know his name because he is far from a stat-sheet stuffer. Yet, his "team-first" attitude and commitment to the defensive end have recently earned him a spot in the Rebels starting line-up. Since making the transition Jan. 21, Rhodes has helped Ole Miss to Southeastern Conference victories over LSU and Alabama. The Houston, Texas, native fully understands his ticket to playing time - doing all of the little things.
"I really enjoy the defensive end of the floor," Rhodes said. "I take it as a personal challenge to shut down the opposing team's top scorer. I try to be tough inside and help our front line dominate the paint. I think my recent play on the defensive end has taken some pressure of off Justin (Reed). I just want to do all of the little things to help him and this team."
Helping the team is exactly what Rhodes has done, aiding the Rebels to eight wins in their last 13 contests.
Barnes says the old clich?, "he'd rather score no points and win than score 30 and lose" fits Rhodes perfectly.
"Chris is the consummate team player," the sixth-year head coach said. "His unselfishness has been a big key for us. He isn't concerned with statistics or individual accolades and will do whatever it takes (to win)."
Rhodes, who posted career highs of 10 points and five rebounds at Auburn Feb. 5, 2003, just tries to make the most out of every opportunity. After playing the first 50 games of his collegiate career as a reserve, he now finds himself being called upon at the beginning of games. He is happy to contribute in either capacity.
"I try to have the same mindset as a starter," the criminal justice major pointed out. "I just want to bring a lot of intensity every time I hit the floor, regardless of whether I'm starting or coming off the bench."
For Rhodes, fighting through adversity became the norm during his high school career at Westbury Christian H.S. in Houston. His athletic accolades - including four straight Texas High School basketball state championships - filled several pages. His academic success, however, was a totally different story. As a senior, Rhodes' grades were not up to par. He was worried that his academic struggles would jeopardize his chance to play Division-I basketball. Rhodes attended night class throughout the week and even additional classes each weekend to ensure that he'd be eligible as a freshman at Ole Miss.
At no point did Barnes and his staff look at Rhodes as a liability because of his academic situation. Instead, they showed confidence in the 2001 Texas State Tournament Most Valuable Player.
"The Ole Miss coaching staff was great to me as a senior in high school," Rhodes admitted. "They called my teachers and counselors (at Westbury Christian) on a regular basis. Their concern definitely made me want to succeed. It gave me the necessary drive to get over the hump. The coaches stuck with me during the difficult times and stayed persistent in recruiting me. I felt like Ole Miss was where I belonged."
The Rebels still have several crucial league tilts remaining, including today's contest vs. first-place South Carolina.
"The SEC has a lot of great teams in it so, to be successful, you have to come out with a lot of focus every night," Rhodes explained. "You can't take a 'night off' and expect to win. By the same token, I think any team can beat any opponent on a given night. Every game presents a challenge and the team that wants it more usually wins. Our coaching staff does a great job in preparing us for games, but once we are given the scouting report it's really our responsibility to make sure that we are ready."
Rhodes, who enjoys watching movies and playing playstation in his spare time, hopes to become a lawyer after his playing days are over. He says the greatest lesson he has learned is to "take pride in whatever you do." He also lives by the words from his mother, who always said "don't sell yourself short."
"Chris has yet to reach his potential as a college basketball player," Barnes added. "We are starting to gain confidence in his abilities and I think he is starting to believe in us.
"Overall, I'd have to say that this is an exciting team to coach. We have a lot of potential because we are still very young. I think the guys are starting to learn our system. Our main goal right now is to get better every day. If that happens, good things are bound to happen."
With increased contributions from role players such as Rhodes, the Rebels hope to be playing their best basketball in the month of March when it matters the most.
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