The Memphis Daily News, Friday, May 12, 2017
By Don Wade
Randy Odom’s story starts with a youth basketball coach back in Big Spring, Texas. An otherwise anonymous guy named James Collinsworth, who became everything to a boy trying to find his way.
Odom’s mother had died of cancer. His father worked a lot – “I was one of those latchkey kids,” he said – and bad choices were at his fingertips.
“I was on the edge of getting in a lot of trouble,” said Odom, CEO of Memphis Athletic Ministries (MAM) and a semi-finalist for the national Jr. NBA Coach of the Year Award. “He helped me at a trajectory-changing time in my life.”
As the NBA Playoffs come into our living rooms each night, we hear a lot about game-changing moments and plays. We see them over and over again on the next morning’s highlights – all there in a neat package.
Odom, 48, played small college basketball. That’s where his playing days ended. And it’s fair to say his career went much further than most of the kids playing in MAM’s program.
But in more than 20 years of working with youth, Odom doesn’t dwell on what he did on the court; he recalls what Coach Collinsworth did for him in his life.
“He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I look at MAM as trying to pay it forward.”
Because of being the Grizzlies Youth Basketball Coach of the Year – the team partners with MAM – and being in the running for the national Jr. NBA Coach of the Year Award, Odom is getting some well-deserved attention. You can help his quest to become one of three finalists going to New York for the June 26 NBA Awards Show. The winner gets a grant for up to $5,000 for his organization.
You can vote for Odom via Twitter through May 22, using #JRNBACOYMEM. Retweets will count as votes and you’re allowed to vote an unlimited number of times.
“As we say in Memphis, we’re grinding hard to make that top three and try to win it,” Odom said.
The real grinding comes out of the public eye. It’s what Odom does daily. The idea of using basketball to teach life lessons is a mantra repeated so often that it sounds cliché. But at MAM, Odom, as both CEO and a coach, is holding kids who might be on the verge of serious trouble to real standards.
The way you treat your family, friends and teammates matters.
The way you interact with adults matters.
Not saying something disrespectful is good, but it’s not enough. Display bad body language, and you won’t play.
Have a dream of playing in the NBA? That’s fine, but it’s not an end game.
“I’m not a dream-crusher,” Odom said. “But if you’re not playing high school basketball, the reality of you going to the NBA is it’s next-to-impossible. Even the 10- to-12-year-olds, we talk about expectations and ask, `What’s Plan B?’”
The team as family is another overworked concept in big-time sports. But here, there’s a deeper purpose. Recently, Odom and his young players sat around in a circle. First, they told the guy next to them something he had done well. Then they shared something they thought the teammate could improve.
“A lot of these kids have never had to sit up under constructive criticism,” Odom said. “I was in the circle and one of the kids said, `Coach Randy, you could bring more Gatorade and snacks.’ I said, `You’re right, I could.’”
At a recent practice, Odom purposely divided the players into a tall team and a short team. The players on the short team cried foul over this apparent injustice. Odom’s response: “OK, well let’s play hard.”
The short team beat the tall team, taking advantage of its quickness and learning that adversity doesn’t always have to be a stop sign so much as a cue to find another road.
Odom, with an assist from Grizzlies coach David Fizdale, also has helped launch the Police Athletic League. Memphis police officers come to MAM and serve as assistant coaches.
“I got kids saying, `Officer Jackson is cool,’” Odom said. “It helps break down stereotypes. You put `Coach’ in front of somebody’s name in Memphis and it’s like royalty. It brings respect.”
And sometimes a change in trajectory for a young life.