Ryan Odom back for encore at Maryland-Baltimore County
CATONSVILLE, Md. -- Ryan Odom was in third grade when he was ballboy for University of Virginia men’s basketball program, where his father was an assistant coach.
The younger Odom was on hand in 1983 when the Cavaliers’ All-American center Ralph Sampson hit a late shot to beat rival Maryland in Charlottesville.
“I was right underneath the basket,” Odom recalls.
These days, the younger Odom is the one calling the shots in the closing seconds as he prepares for his third season as the coach at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Last March, the Retrievers won the America East Conference tournament title with a shot at the buzzer by former DeMatha star Jairus Lyles. That set the stage for the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history, as No. 16 seed UMBC stunned No. 1 seed Virginia 74-54 in the South Region first round. It was the first time a No. 16 seed beat a top seed in tournament history.
“Greatest thing to ever happen in Baltimore sports,” UMBC women’s coach Phil Stern, who is beginning his 17th season at the school.
That may be a stretch, but the upset certainly brought a ton of attention to the campus.
“What they did was phenomenal,” former Wizards and Maryland star and current Coppin State coach Juan Dixon said. “It gave mid-major programs an opportunity to have a vision.”
So why didn’t Odom, 44, capitalize on his new-found fame and take a job with a bigger program?
“The short answer is you don’t mess with happy,” he said during UMBC media day on Tuesday. “My family and I love it here. UMBC is a very special place. The players mean the world to me.”
Odom signed a contract extension to stay at UMBC last spring through 2023, with an annual salary of $425,000, according to ESPN.
“I really feel like we have a blank canvas. We have not even had a full year in this arena,” Odom said while standing in the UMBC Event Center that opened late last season. “I wasn’t ready at the time (back in March) to forgo that opportunity. I think in life we all have to make decisions, what is best for our future. What do we do? Go with our gut. That is what I did.”
The upset win over Virginia brought untold recognition to UMBC, which sits a few miles southwest of Camden Yards.
After that upset win, UMBC Director of Multimedia Communications Zach Seidel was up until about 6 a.m. spreading the news of the historic victory, he said Tuesday.
Odom handled the notoriety with grace a trait passed down from his father.
Odom is the son of Dave Odom, who was the coach at Wake Forest from 1989 to 2001. Among the players he had with the Demon Deacons was Tim Duncan, who later become part of the dynasty with the San Antonio Spurs.
The younger Odom was around great players and coaches all of his life. His father was an assistant at Virginia under Terry Holland. Jim Larranaga, who led underdog George Mason to the Final Four in 2006, was another Cavaliers assistant.
But coming out of high school, Odom had very few offers to play at the Division I level.
“I was a skinny little guy,” Ryan Odom said Tuesday. “I weighed about 140 pounds. I could shoot (but) I was not a high-level player. I could have walked-on at Wake and be part of my dad’s program. I knew I wasn’t going to play.”
He received a little interest from Furman and Guilford, but ended up at Hampden-Sydney, a Division III program in rural, central Virginia. While there, Odom played for Tony Shaver, who won 358 games at the school and has been the coach at William Mary in Williamsburg since 2003.
In one game, Odom recalls making six three-pointers in the first half at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg in an Old Dominion Athletic Conference contest.
After graduating in 1996, he worked his way up the coaching ladder.
He was an assistant coach at American University and Virginia Tech, among other schools, before landing the post at UMBC prior to the 2016-17 season. He led the program to a school-record 25 wins last year and the first back-to-back winning seasons in 32 years at the Division I level.
Now he will try to pull off a challenging encore.
UMBC has to replace some key players from last season’s team. That includes Lyles, who is from Silver Spring and signed a contract with the Utah Jazz in July. The Retrievers did add Ricky Council II, a transfer from Providence. UMBC opens the season Nov. 6 at Marquette.
“I call it the new normal for us. We are always going to have that moment,” Odom said of the Virginia win. “We won’t shy away from that.”