Author’s Note: Former Wake Forest basketball coach Dave Odom was kind enough to give me half an hour of his time to do an interview over the phone about his time at Wake Forest. He couldn't have been nicer, and I greatly appreciate his time.
For Dave Odom, accepting the job as the head basketball coach at Wake Forest in 1989 was an easy decision, and a position he would hold for a dozen years.
Odom grew up in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and had been a Wake Forest fan for most of his life. Asked about his decision to take the Wake Forest job, Odom responded:
“Well, that goes back to my childhood growing up in Goldsboro, North Carolina, a relatively small town back in those days - maybe 25,000-30,000 people, and when you look at the size of Wake Forest and the size of my town, they were pretty much in concert, pretty much alike. The other thing is I grew up in a Southern Baptist home; my mother was big in the Southern Baptist church, and in those days Wake Forest was funded heavily by the Baptist state foundation, so it was a natural connection there as well. Along with North Carolina State, which was also close by, Wake Forest was my first choice as an ACC school to pull for growing up. That's where it all started.”
Wake Forest fans everywhere are glad that Odom chose to pull for Wake over State! Many of our fondest memories came with Odom as the head coach.
Odom served as a high school coach for many years before being given his first college coaching opportunity by Carl Tacy of Wake Forest. He would serve as an assistant on Tacy’s bench for several years before leaving to become the top assistant to Terry Holland at Virginia.
Coach Odom gives Carl Tacy credit for his focus on shooting, and Terry Holland credit for teaching him the importance of defense.
“Entering my college basketball coaching life, Coach Tacy - I’ll never be able to thank him enough for the opportunity that he gave me - my first college coaching opportunity. The thing that I learned first and foremost from Coach Tacy was how important shooting the basketball is. Coach Tacy told me one time, ‘recruit all you want, but don’t bring me anybody that can’t shoot’. That was important to me and then Coach Holland taught me the importance of defense and how to play the game of defense - that side of the ball - and that was really, really important, because up until then I had depended upon teaching the game of basketball through an offensive perspective. But Terry showed me that there was another end of the court, and that we needed to be equally good on that end of the court. So that’s how I relate the importance of coaching under Coach Tacy and also Coach Holland.
But Odom credits Coach Jerry Steel (who is also a Wake Forest alumnus) at Guilford College for his knowledge of basketball and the beginnings of his own coaching success.
“I never had a bad coach. Every coach I had contributed something to my life - either in sports or also as a person, but also as a coach - things I can use later on, so it goes back well before I got into college work. When I got to Guilford College I had several coaches there that were instrumental in everything - helping me grow, but primarily Jerry Steel, my basketball coach while at Guilford; he played basketball at Wake Forest under Bones McKinney, and he was very influential in helping me to build my basketball resume. As a matter of fact, I give him credit for teaching me how to coach big men. I’m not a big guy myself, so that’s not something that comes naturally, and I had to watch him coach several really good big men we had at Guilford College, and that was helpful to me.”
How fitting it is that one of the greatest coaches in the history of Wake Forest sports got started by playing college basketball under a Wake Forest alumnus?
I asked Coach Odom how he recruited Tim Duncan, he reminded me that it’s already a story well told, so I’ll let you click the link to the full interview if you want to read more.
And speaking of Tim, while Odom has literally hundreds of great memories with him, the thing that stuck out most to Coach about Tim Duncan was his work ethic.
“I think the thing that stood out most with Tim was his work ethic - second-to-none. He had a deep and endearing passion for basketball. You couldn’t teach him enough. You couldn’t work with him enough. He just craved it every day, and you never had to worry about when he came to practice whether he was going to be tired and not give you his very best. He always did give you his best. So I think his work ethic is the first thing I recall. And then the second thing is his sense of fearlessness. He wasn’t afraid of any situation; he wasn’t afraid of any player; he wasn’t afraid of winning or losing. I mean, he attacked the game itself, and didn’t worry too much about who we were playing. He wanted to be at his best, and he was comfortable with that. When he was on his best game, things usually turned out right for us.”
For most Wake Forest fans “of age”, one of our fondest memories is of the 1995 ACC Tournament Championship, where Randolph Childress just took over, and still holds the ACC Tournament scoring record. That series is still one of the greatest in tournament history, and produced one of the greatest plays (or at least the most fun for Wake fans): the crossover that ‘broke’ UNC’s Jeff McInnis’ ankles…and the subsequent ‘get up’ taunt from Childress - right before he drained the jumper.
Coach Odom knew he wanted Randolph to have the ball in his hands and to take that last shot - which ended up giving Wake the win.
“We didn’t have the last possession, but we had the next to the last possession and we called a timeout. I just told the team we were going to put the ball in Randolph Childress’ hands, and it was not going to be his decision necessarily to shoot it, but it would be his decision as to who would shoot. He would make that call: and it might be Childress or it might be somebody else. But however the possession played out, we were going to be okay with it. As it did turn out, we went to a high pick-and-roll, and there was nobody really guarding Randolph. Defensively they got confused, so he was wide open, and he made the jumper that put us ahead. And then they called a timeout quickly and still had the last shot to tie us. I think Jerry Stackhouse took the shot, but didn’t make it, so we won the game.”
But as much as any coach would enjoy the victory, Coach Odom’s thoughts immediately went to the Wake Forest fans. That’s just the kind of guy he is.
“As soon as the game was over, my thoughts immediately went to the Wake Forest fans that had been so long without a championship. And I was so happy for them.”
I asked him how you coach a guy like Randolph Childress - who was on fire the entire tournament, and being the great coach he is, he had an appropriate response.
“Randolph and I had been together four years at that point, so I knew him and he knew me. I think in a situation like that you just sense a player like Randolph is having such a great moment and a great game; you don’t try to overdo it. You just make sure you keep him involved in a normal way. I think if you try to overdo it then it’s not natural. And everything that happened, we let it happen in a natural flow. And that way you don’t unsettle your other players. You don’t want them to stop trying, because you never know when you’re going to need them. Since Randolph had the ball in his hands most of the time, I trusted him to make the right decision, and he almost always did. So it was one of those things that just flowed naturally.”
Over the course of his dozen years as coach, Odom recruited many international players among them Duncan, Darius Songaila, Ricky Peral, Rafael Vidauretta, and Makhtar N’Diaye to name a few. But he said it’s all about making connections and knowing people, not unlike domestic recruiting.
“Well, along the way as an assistant coach and also as a high school coach, I’d been given the opportunity to coach some of our national teams overseas in international tournaments. When you do that you have a chance to meet coaches and people who have influence and knowledge of basketball in their particular areas of expertise.”
Many of Dave Odom’s former players and assistants are now in the coaching ranks themselves. And, Dave’s son, Ryan, is now the head coach at UMBC.
“Well, they would have to speak for themselves, but I would hope that whatever contact I had with them became a positive influence in their lives. You know, no two coaches are going to coach alike. You mentioned Ryan - right now I think he’s a better offensive coach than I ever was. I think defensively he’s probably got some work to do there, but offensively he’s really, really, really good.
“You can say the same thing about other coaches that are coaching now - that were under me either as a player or an assistant coach. You’d hope there were some things that each one of them took with them where they can say ‘You know, I remember Coach Odom and this is the way he handled it. This is the way he taught it.’’’
Odom says he tries to keep up with all of his former players, but he is especially close to Randolph Childress, Rodney Rogers, and Tim Duncan. He is also excited to see Tony Rutland go into coaching and thinks he will be a great coach.
Coach Odom stays busy in retirement. He attends every Wake home game that he can, attends or watches all of Ryan’s games, chairs the Maui Jim Maui Invitational in Maui and talks to coaches about coming to play there, and works select ACC games as a color commentator for Raycom Sports. He also loves to exercise, play tennis, and spend time at his beach home.
If you’ve made it this far and haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out the full text of the interview for some great stories.
Thanks to Coach Dave Odom for the time, and all he has done for Wake Forest basketball! Go Deacs!