Over at Southwest Tennessee Community College, new men's head basketball coach Benjamin Rhodes is determined to work hard, and he's not putting any energy on trying to replace the legend that preceded him.
Monday (Oct. 1) marked the official start of practice for the 2012-13 basketball season at Southwest. Rhodes has taken over as coach and athletic director following the departure of the venerable Verties Sails Jr.
"I can't fill Coach Sails' shoes. I'm not even going to try," said Rhodes, who served as an assistant to Sails for the past 19 seasons.
"What Coach Sails has done has been remarkable," said Rhodes, "but now I can only be me. I'm going to get out there and work hard."
Rhodes enjoyed a successful career at then-Shelby State Community College before moving on to play two years at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, where he earned all-district and all-conference honors. Following his basketball career, Rhodes knew that his purpose was to serve others and he worked in a development center helping people with mental disabilities.
Six years later, Rhodes returned to Memphis, volunteering at Shelby State initially as a two-year assistant coach. He wanted to give back to the program and to Coach Sails for the opportunities his basketball scholarship had provided him. After seeing the positive impact of basketball on the lives of the student-athletes he worked with, Rhodes made the commitment to continue coaching.
For Rhodes, being a coach is about serving the purpose of moving young men forward. "If I don't do that, then I haven't done the job that I was hired to do," he told The New Tri-State Defender.
A key aspect of Rhodes' message to his players is the importance of academics. It's consistent with the message Sails and Rhodes shared with players in the past. Returning players have been quick to let incoming players know the importance Rhodes places on academics.
"If you don't go to school, you just can't play for me because that is defeating the purpose," Rhodes said. "We may win the National Championship, but if you don't graduate, what have you done?"
Over the years, Rhodes has had a hand in aiding student-athletes to becoming college graduates.
"There are success stories all over this city," said Rhodes, noting numerous players who graduated and have become coaches around the region.
Rhodes is optimistic about the upcoming season.
"I think we have good players and I think together we can be a great team," he said, with an emphasis on team.
Practice stretches throughout October, concluding with scrimmages and an alumni game at the end of the month. The Saluqis begin their season Nov. 8.