Utah State battling for NCAA Tournament bid under Ryan Odom, who coached UMBC to historic March Madness upset


Ryan Odom’s strategy is breaking down.

It’s August 2000 and Odom remains in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with his then-girlfriend, Lucia. They’re about to take the renowned Grand Teton National Park gondola up the mountains. They’ll leave the valley partner and sweetheart; they’ll return engaged. She has no idea.

Then a storm rolls in, and they turn up one cabin short when the trip closes down. Odom is inflamed, however what can he do? He can’t manage what he can’t manage– the weather condition particularly. It’s a lesson that will assist throughout his training profession.

The couple’s journey continues. As they head towards their next location, Odom pulls over– “some area along the method” while driving in Utah as he informs it– and proposes. She states yes.

More than 20 years later on, Odom still can’t discover the area on a map. He’s back in the Beehive State, now in his 2nd year as the coach at Utah State He’s concentrated on putting the Aggies on the map, similar to he did 5 years ago with the Retrievers of Maryland-Baltimore County.

NCAA Basketball: Utah State at Colorado State

Ryan Odom has Utah State on the bubble to make a journey to the NCAA Tournament. USATSI

Steven Ashworth didn’t understand the name Ryan Odom, however when he heard those wonderful 4 letters– UMBC— he was overjoyed. The Aggies point player had a clear recollection of the Retrievers’ huge upset of Virginia in 2018, the very first time in NCAA Tournament history a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 seed, and UMBC’s fast lane and 3-point shooting that fit his design well.

” When we initially got presented, a great deal of those discussions had to do with that and about how I played in a manner that would enable a great deal of liberty within his techniques and offense and tactical plan,” Ashworth remembered.

Odom’s training profession covers more than a quarter-century, however he has actually remained in the video game his entire life. The kid of previous East Carolina, Wake Forest and South Carolina coach Dave Odom, Ryan dipped into Division III Hampden-Sydney College from 1992-96 and entered into training right away as an administrative assistant on Seth Greenberg’s personnel at South Florida Came stops at Furman, UNC Asheville, American, Virginia Tech and Charlotte prior to his very first full-time head-coaching chance at Lenoir-Rhyne, a Division II program in Hickory, North Carolina, in 2015.

One year eliminated from ending up 8-18 and balancing a paltry 65.3 points, the Bears completed 21-10 while balancing 90.1 points in Odom’s launching season, making the local last of the Division II NCAA Tournament. They led Division II in 3-pointers per video game.

His very first year with Lenoir-Rhyne was likewise his last. The young coach with the explosive offense was off to another program in requirement of a brand-new instructions: UMBC.

The reconstruct at UMBC was intimidating. The Retrievers had actually made one NCAA Tournament– in 2007-08– and had actually suffered 8 straight losing seasons instantly later, 7 straight with single-digit wins. Acquiring a group that went 7-25 in 2015-16, Odom produced a 21-13 turn-around his very first year in Baltimore and the historical March Madness win his 2nd year.

That was as far as the Retrievers got under Odom. He had actually gotten lots of interest considering that the win over Virginia, however after an America East regular-season title in 2020-21, he lastly discovered the task that fit him at Utah State.

The difficulty in Logan, Utah, was extremely various from his very first 2 full-time head-coaching gigs. The Aggies made the NCAA Tournament in 2021 under Craig Smith, who took the Utah task. Unlike at Lenoir-Rhyne and UMBC, Odom was seeking to build on success, instead of upgrade a having a hard time program.

” He yapped about the culture and the environment and the environment that Utah State had which he wished to continue to construct on,” Ashworth stated.

Add in that he was leaving the East Coast for the very first time, and an outsider would believe there was great deals of pressure. Odom saw it in a different way.

” There’s 300 and nevertheless numerous tasks in the nation, and they all have pressure,” Odom stated. “Is it precisely equivalent at every one? I have no concept. Most likely not? Pressure is something that you can put on yourself, too. We attempt not to do that. I attempt not to do that. Coming here, it was a location that had actually experienced incredible, remarkable success throughout its basketball history.

” So that’s truly what this program is everything about. It’s about all the people that have actually led the way for future groups. Which’s all we’re attempting to do today, too: do our finest while we have this minute together and not put any unnecessary pressure on ourselves however at the very same time pave brand-new roadways for future groups and take pleasure in each minute that we have together.”

Bringing that group together was a puzzle of sorts. The COVID-19 year tossed a wrench into gamers’ eligibility, and the brand-new transfer guideline permitted gamers to alter schools without remaining a year. That left lineups around the nation in chaos, particularly for first-year coaches who had actually groups filled with gamers hired by previous programs. 2 Utah State gamers signed up with Smith at Utah and star center Neemias Queta went to the NBA and was selected 39 th general with the Kings.

Odom kept a message of trust and empowerment. In his very first Zoom conference with the group, his main message was, “You didn’t select me. I selected you. Now it’s my task to make [your] trust. It’s my task to be there for [you]”

Credit his gamers for listening– and thinking. Odom kept a strong core led by Ashworth, Brock Miller and all-conference forward Justin Bean while likewise generating UMBC transfers Brandon Horvath and RJ Eytle-Rock and Utah transfer Rylan Jones It needed persistence and trust from both sides.

” I did think of moving– I remained in the transfer website for a number of days, even,” now-junior Max Shulga stated. “My discussion with Coach O was practically the method he plays, the method his groups play, pack like that. I truly liked that. A new training personnel can be found in was basically like me moving.”

Shulga, a Ukraine local who went to high school in Spain, was at first identified by Eric Peterson– a previous Smith assistant– while betting Ukraine at the U18 FIBA European Championships. Shulga devoted without ever checking out school, selecting the Aggies over a handful of low-major deals.

He’s one of 6 Aggies from outside the United States. Another, Australia native Sean Bairstow, gotten in touch with the Aggies’ previous personnel throughout a trip of the United States with Australian AAU group AUSA Hoops, however he understood of Utah State well prior to that. His older sibling Cam starred at Mountain West competitor New Mexico, making All-America respectable reference his senior year prior to being prepared by the Bulls. Like Shulga, Sean Bairstow weighed moving. Like Shulga, he remained regardless of having no previous connection to Odom.

” I was simply searching for a new beginning, and the new beginning pertained to me,” Bairstow, now a senior, stated. “He simply informed me, ‘I believe you’re gon na have a breakout year,’ which was actually all I required to hear after that. I sort of understood that he had that belief in me that I might do the important things that I understood I might do.”

That breakout needed to wait. After a strong offseason, Bairstow broke his wrist in the yearly intrasquad Blue-White Scrimmage and likewise suffered a lacerated kidney. He missed out on numerous weeks and never ever returned on track. Miller’s back concerns cost him basically the whole Mountain West slate.

Utah State still completed 18-16 with an NIT look. Odom’s effect was clear: The Aggies led the nation in help rate. More than 40% of their shots were from 3-point variety, dramatically up from the 32.6% in Smith’s last season. The pieces were in location, even if no one might have forecasted this sort of enhancement.

NCAA Basketball: Utah State at Boise State

Sean Bairstow, a local of Australia, has actually gotten rid of injuries to assemble a strong senior season. USATSI

A coach’s 2nd year on the task is typically a much better indication than his. He has more control of the lineup and has actually had longer to execute his design. Over the offseason, Horvath and Bean proceeded, and Odom generated 2 essential transfers that have actually played significant functions.

Odom had actually hired Taylor Funk while at UMBC, however the skilled forward was concentrated on larger conferences, eventually selecting Atlantic 10 program Saint Joseph’s After 5 years with the Hawks, he was trying to find more success– both group and person– particularly after missing out on the last 2 video games of his redshirt senior season with a thumb injury.

” I dedicated on my see and after that never ever as soon as regretted my choice,” Funk stated. “I believe [Odom] understood me more than I understood him, which was remarkable. When it came back to him hiring me once again, he understood precisely what he was getting.”

The returns have actually likely been even much better than Odom anticipated. Funk’s 13.4 points per video game are 2nd on the group. He’s shooting 37.5% from 3-point variety– the very best mark because his freshman project– and linking on almost 90% of his totally free tosses. At 6-foot-9 with the capability to shoot and drive, he’s a match headache for opposing bigs.

” Taylor’s remarkable,” Odom stated. “Taylor simply fits us. He fits the manner in which we do things, the manner in which we play, the kind of program that we desire be. He is simply a terrific individual, he’s got fantastic moms and dads and a fantastic household. He’s discovered a house here that will be his 2nd house permanently in such a brief time. … It’s been a truly favorable experience for both sides.”

Also moving in was Dan Akin, a previous colleague of Eytle-Rock’s not just at UMBC however likewise at Barking Abbey in London, England. Akin, who scored UMBC’s very first basket in the Virginia upset, remains in his 6th year of college after 4 seasons at UMBC and one at Cal Baptist Both Eytle-Rock and Akin have actually ended up being crucial gamers for the Aggies.

” RJ had a fantastic profession at UMBC,” Odom stated. “He was the timeless man who you wish to coach that begins a bit sluggish and is not actually in the mix and after that simply keeps working and after that all of the abrupt goes into the mix, has success as soon as he gets in, and after that ends up being to most likely the very best and most efficient gamer we had in his in 2015. It’s actually cool to see a person do that. For him, it had to do with ‘What’s next? Let’s go show ourselves at another level, a bit greater level.” http://www.cbssports.com/”

The message was comparable for Akin, who is balancing a career-high 12.1 points in spite of primarily coming off the bench.

” He required that difficulty prior to carrying on and going to pursue an expert profession,” Odom stated. “I’ve been truly pleased with what he’s had the ability to do.”

A couple of transfers do not make a complete group. The core Odom kept together has actually blazed a trail. The Bairstow breakout Odom visualized in their very first conference has actually lastly occurred. He’s shooting 43.6% from 3-point variety, an amazing dive from the 12.5% from his injury-disrupted 2021-22 season.

” It’s a self-confidence thing for sure, however I likewise ended up being a better shooter over the summer season,” Bairstow stated. “I might absolutely shoot in 2015. I was far from a 12% shooter, however that’s what the numbers will reveal you.

” In the summertime, it’s simple to have self-confidence. When you’re simply playing pick-up, none of the shots you’re making or missing out on matter. It was focusing a lot on the psychological side, understanding that when I was shooting or working out, I was putting myself in video game circumstances, picturing them drooping off me and having to step up and knock it down.”

This is where Funk’s existence does not appear in his own statistics however has actually had a significant effect. He and Funk– of comparable height and construct– worked out together throughout the summertime, with Bairstow attempting to replicate Funk while developing a bond with his brand-new colleague.

” He worked his tail off in the summertime,” Odom stated. “The secret is taking the best shots, and Sean is dedicated to taking the best 3s for our group, and he’s had the ability to knock them down for most of the season. I’m truly happy that he’s increased his level of self-confidence in his shooting.”

The breakout has actually likewise come for Shulga, and it’s come at the very best time. On Valentine’s Day, Shulga gathered a career-high 29 points in a win over Air Force to stop a two-game losing streak. He then published 13 points and 10 rebounds in a 21- point resurgence win over Nevada, a video game vital for the Aggies’ NCAA Tournament hopes. He made Mountain West Player of the Week honors.

” I never ever play like, ‘Oh, I’m about to have a huge video game,’ or like I’m anticipating to have a huge video game next video game,” Shulga stated after the Air Force win. “I much like to type of remain in the minute and simply make the ideal checks out, make the right plays throughout the video game, and after that the work reveals on the court. Simply making the best checks out and making the right plays will take us a long method.”

No one needs to make more checks out than Ashworth, the Aggies’ flooring general. This summer season, he crunched tape of fellow small guards with deep variety– Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Trae Young in specific– to see what he might include to his collection.

” I keep in mind last season, after the season was over, actually looking deep into what type of metrics and numbers might I actually enhance on, whether it’s little margins that will make a huge distinction in the end, or perhaps things that I require a great deal of deal with, and among those things was truthfully my ball handling,” Ashworth stated. “The difficult part for me was I actually had a hard time sometimes getting precisely to the area that I wished to, whether it was establishing my protector so I might come off the screen much easier and even simply browsing my method as soon as coming off of the ball screen.”

The outcomes, once again, have actually been exceptional. Ashworth is up from 8.7 points per video game to 15.8. He’s shooting 46.4% this year compared to 40.4% in 2015. Ashworth’s 45.7% mark from deep is 4th in Division I this season. His help rate is method up and his turnover rate is way down. The Aggies, in turn, lead Division I in 3-point portion (405%) and rank 14 th in offending performance, according to KenPom.com

” It enabled me to have a lot more self-confidence entering the season,” Ashworth stated. “We’ve absolutely seen the advantages of that with my performance, increasing my chances to score and assist in out of the pick-and-roll. As rather of a small guard that’s truly fast and quick, I believe that’s. among the important things that will assist me turn into the gamer I wish to be.”

There are some typical threads you speak with Odom and his gamers. Self-confidence. Proud. Benefiting from the minute. Odom imparts those in his gamers, and it’s handy to have a skilled lot listening. The Aggies have 11 gamers noted as upperclassmen or college students. They rank 28 th in Kenpom’s “experience” metric. Which does not inform the complete story, either. Ashworth is “just” a junior however is currently 22 after taking an objective journey following high school– among 5 Aggies to do so. Ashworth states that experience has actually assisted the group remain on course throughout the season. After 2 four-game losing streaks in 2015, the Aggies have not lost more than 2 directly this year, and they’ve just done that when.

” It’s simply the manner in which we’re able to gain from things that occur in video games or things that take place in practice, and simply the maturity level,” Funk stated a day after a narrow loss to Mountain West leader San Diego State “No one can be found in here making any reasons or hanging their heads or having low energy. That’s sort of difficult to discover with a more youthful group. I would state we value the chances we have and do not let things get to us.”

There’s no much better time for the Aggies to value their chances than now. Among the “Next Four Out” in CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm’s field of 68, they’re a strong 34 th in the NET Ranking however 0-4 in Quad 1 video games. Utah State likely will get another regular-season opportunity at a Quad 1 triumph versus Boise State in the ending. Will come the Mountain West Tournament, which will include at least 5 groups with at-large quote cases. There’s work to do for an NCAA Tournament berth, however offered the Aggies’ experience, explosive offense and coach, nobody will wish to see them– if they can arrive. In the meantime, they’re not neglecting anybody.

” One of the slogans we attempt to live by is ‘Every video game’s a huge video game due to the fact that the Aggies are playing,” http://www.cbssports.com/” Ashworth stated.

There are huge video games on the horizon, consisting of Tuesday’s video game at Wyoming on CBS Sports Network Take it from their coach and their veteran leaders: The Aggies will be all set for them.

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