As the sands of time ticked down on his venerable 17-year NBA career around the mid-2000s, Rod Strickland — a Bronx product with savant-like ball-handling and floor general skills that wouldn’t look out of place in today’s NBA — didn’t necessarily see a post-playing coaching career in the wings.
As Strickland explored twilight NBA opportunities and a potential to go overseas to continue a career that started on the hardwood floors of Grand Concourse’s Gauchos Gym and Co-op City’s Truman High School, the prospect of coaching the next wave of basketball talent presented itself at a John Calipari-led Memphis Tigers basketball program in 2006.
And from there, Strickland gained coaching experience on the campuses of Memphis and South Florida before embarking on a program development role for aspiring G-Leaguers in the NBA’s development league with a focus on professional development and recruiting for the next wave of NBA talent.
“Once I retired in 2005, I’ve basically been trying to help young people to develop on and off the court. And I just want to create an environment of competitiveness that helped me thrive,” said Strickland. “I started studying the game more and understanding the dynamics of being a coach and started to like it and enjoy it, and I’ve always wanted to be a head coach once I left the league … but I didn’t have the opportunity.”
An opportunity, however, finally presented itself last month when Long Island University Brooklyn tabbed Strickland, 56, as its newest head coach — taking over a program that consolidated the rosters of LIU Post and LIU Brooklyn in 2018 while looking for its first NCAA tournament berth since then.
Long Island University was once a preeminent powerhouse in the 1930s, winning two national championships under Clair Bee and seven conference championships in the Northeast Conference. Strickland’s predecessor Derek Kellogg amassed a 74-74 record in five years at LIU Brooklyn, including an NCAA tournament appearance in 2018 — his first season with the team — after his team finished in fourth place in the regular season but won the conference tournament.
Strickland is no stranger to collegiate success — leading his DePaul Blue Demons, a Catholic university out of Chicago, to three tourney appearances and two Sweet Sixteen finishes in 1988 and 1989 — and said he wants the linchpin of these Strickland-led squads to mirror the competitiveness he honed as a rising NYC prospect.
“The timing is right, and to be able to contribute to the game at this level and in NYC, that’s special but it’s also not just not about you,” said Strickland. “Having to oversee a whole team, understand the dynamics of young people is one aspect of the job because basketball is a mental game, but then there’s also creating a culture having the staff to make sure we’re competitive every night.”
Amongst his peers and admirers of the game, Strickland is frequently cited on the “most underrated” lists. After his standout DePaul career, Strickland was selected 19th overall by his hometown New York Knicks where he earned NBA All-Rookie honors, before averaging 13.2 points per game and 7.3 assists per game in subsequents stops in San Antonio, Portland, Washington, Miami, Minnesota and Orlando.
Strickland saw his most success in the NBA from 1990-1998, which included a season-best 18 points per game average in Portland in 1994-95, and a second team All-NBA campaign where he led the league in assists (10.5) and averaged 17 points per game as a Wizard in 1997-98.
Strickland was inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
Strickland is 13th on the NBA’s all-time assist leaderboard, and there’s still a part of him that envisions how his game — a sinewy 6-3 guard equipped with an entree of acrobatic lay-ups, premier court vision, dynamic penetration that was accentuated by game-breaking handles — would’ve played in today’s modern NBA landscape, where emphasis on spacing and the pick-and-roll has allowed players of his ilk, like godson Kyrie Irving, to thrive.
And in his post-career work, he’s developed an eye for recruiting that could bring a few nationally ranked talent and hidden gems to the LIU basketball program. But no matter who’s on Strickland’s roster come winter, he’s looking to compete with them and raise the ceiling of both his players and the LIU Sharks.
“I think you have to create an environment where young people who want to get better, can get better,” he said. “No one wants to make mistakes. It’s on our staff to communicate the ins-and-outs of the game and make them accountable, and forming those relationships necessary to get them better.”
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes