SPECIAL TO THE FLASH
RANGER (September 15, 2015) – When Rodney Heard scans through his phone, his friends lists includes the numbers of some of the professional basketball’s all-time greats and movers and shakers.
Los Angeles Lakes’ GM Jerry West? Got it.
Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas? In there.
The front office for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks? Check.
For the former high school and college coach and the one-time head of scouting for the Hawks and New York Knicks, the most important call is the one he received a few months ago. The one, he feels, is going to lead the young man who grew up in the projects of Detroit to “something special” as an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team in the economically-challenged community in rural Texas.
“Some of friends asked me, ‘Rodney, are you really going down to Ranger with Billy Gillispie to coach at a junior college in Texas?” Heard told members of the Ranger Lions’ Club on Thursday. “I told them I was and that I’m one of the luckiest people in the world to be coming here. This is a very unique situation we have here. We’re planning on doing something special here.”
“If we’re not talking about winning the championship as coaches, we’re not aiming high enough. We’re planning on winning, and winning a lot,” said Heard, who previously served as VP and Director of Pro Personnel and Scouting with the WNBA’s Chicago Sky and as an assistant at the University of Detroit and the University of California-Berkeley.
For Heard, the idea of winning games wasn’t the most focus for his decision to come to Ranger as an assistant The catch for him was the prospect of coaching at the small college level with Gillispie –a former University of Kentucky coach that signed on to reboot the struggling RC program in March.
“Coach Gillispie and I have been friends for years,” he said. “I scouted his teams when he was at UTEP (University of Texas at El Paso), Texas A&M, Kentucky and Texas Tech. I’ve seen him talk to players in their homes, and I admire the way he talks to them in their homes and doesn’t belittle them. It’s funny, but he actually cares about the players. You know, when we huddle up the first thing he does is asks them how their day was. How great is that?”
“This is a white man asking a bunch of predominantly black guys from the city how there day was,” he said. “I grew up in the projects in Detroit without a man caring enough to ask me that. I’ve always admired him for that, and I know a lot of his former players do, too. He’s like a father type to a lot of them, and that is an incredible thing to be part of.”
The opportunity to scratch off another item on his basketball bucket list also appealed to Heard, who graduated from Kansas State University.
“I thought it was fitting for me to come here,” said Heard, who also served as a pro scout for the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers. “When he (Gillispie) called me and asked me if I’d be interested in coming here, I thought it was right. I’ve coached at the AAU level, in high school, in college, in the NBA and overseas. In all that time, the only place I haven’t been was the junior college level. I’m thrilled I can add this to my list.”
Heard’s AAU squad, Team Detroit, featured future NBA standout Chris Webber.
Heard dismisses the idea that he or Gillispie have one-and-done mindsets at RC. Both, he said, have had other opportunities offered.
“A few weeks ago a college called and said they had this and that. He told me, ‘That’s foolishness, Rodney. We’re going to Ranger and do something special.’ I think he is planning on being here, and I’m planning on being here. And we’re both planning on winning.”
Winning would be a welcome accomplishment for the Rangers. Last season, after an early-season coaching shakeup that resulted in several forfeits and forced former Houston Rockets’ star Robert Reid to finish out the year as the interim coach, Ranger College struggled to a 2-23 record.
The 2015-16 RC basketball season will get under way in October.