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Utah State coach Ryan Odom sees Aggies program as ‘an opportunity to build on a winning culture’

SHARE Utah State coach Ryan Odom sees Aggies program as ‘an opportunity to build on a winning culture’

New Utah State men’s basketball coach Ryan Odom speaks during a press conference Wednesday, April 7, 2021, at the Wayne Estes Center in Logan.

Jeff Hunter

While Brock Miller certainly looked like he could immediately suit up and go play 38 minutes following the press conference Wednesday morning that introduced new Utah State head men’s basketball coach Ryan Odom, the shooting guard declared, “You know, this is making me feel old.”

But while Miller is heading into his senior year, he is not heading into his senior years. It’s just that the former Brighton High star has been through all of this before.

“This is my fourth coach at Utah State,” Miller pointed out. “I was Stew’s last commit. And so, it was Stew and then Duryea, Smith and now Odom.”

After 17 seasons at USU, Stew Morrill retired in 2015, just as Miller was finishing up his high school career and getting ready to leave on a two-year mission for The Church of the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Morrill’s longtime assistant Tim Duryea took over the program while Miller was in Argentina, and Miller suited up for Duryea for an injury-shortened season in 2017-18.

Duryea was fired in March 2018 and was replaced by Craig Smith, who enjoyed great success during his three years with the Aggies before being hired away by the University of Utah on March 27.

Having been through the process before, Miller tried to help his younger teammates navigate a difficult situation.

“It is kind of a crazy thing when you go through it the very first time,” Miller said of a coaching change. “There’s a lot of nerves, and change is tough because it happens so quick after an emotional season. So, it’s definitely not easy, but I was able to talk to some of the other guys and kind of help them that way.

“Everybody’s been handling it really well, and we’re excited for Coach Odom.”

The head coach at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for the past five seasons, Ryan Odom was named USU’s 20th head men’s basketball coach on Monday. At Wednesday’s event inside the Wayne Estes Center, Odom was introduced to a small gathering of Aggie fans and media by USU athletic director John Hartwell.

“I would much rather have guys have success,” Hartwell replied when asked about having to hire another head coach so quickly. “Doing a search every three or four years is a whole lot better than being mired in mediocrity. I really believe that. ...

“And obviously being a really good coach is a significant part of it, but I think being a fit for our community is also really key. And I really think Ryan is going to be that.”

Hartwell confirmed that Odom’s contract is for $4 million over five years, and also shared that, unlike with Smith’s hire in 2018, he did not utilize a search firm this time around and ended up interviewing six candidates before settling on Odom.

Best known for guiding No. 16 seed UMBC to a historic victory in the 2018 NCAA Tournament over No. 1 seed Virginia — the first and only time a No. 16 seed has upset a No. 1 seed — Odom went 97-60 during his five years at the helm of the Retrievers. Outside of the mammoth upset of the Cavaliers, his most notable achievement was taking a program that went 7-25 before his arrival in 2015-16 and turning it into a 21-13 campaign in 2016-17.

“Well, we want to be a Top 25 team, year in and year out. We want to advance in the NCAA Tournament. We have the support here to do that, and it’s up to us to get it done.” — Ryan Odom

Of course, the Aggies are in a much different situation coming off a 20-9 season and a third straight bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“This is an opportunity to build on a winning culture,” Odom said. “This is a little different for me after being in more rebuild-type situations. That’s not what this is. This is one where we know where we’re at, but where do we want to go?

“Well, we want to be a Top 25 team, year in and year out. We want to advance in the NCAA Tournament. We have the support here to do that, and it’s up to us to get it done.”

But while the cupboard is hardly bare at Utah State, Odom acknowledged that last year’s leading scorer and rebounder, Neemias Queta, is leaving the program following a huge junior year to pursue a career in the NBA. In addition, senior forward Alphonso Anderson is planning to move on as a grad transfer, and while forward Justin Bean has already announced that he is staying, there’s certainly a strong possibility that other players could transfer out of the program.

“Without a doubt, these guys sitting right in front of me are the most important guys,” Odom said. “We’ve got to make sure that we keep them here. I want them to stay.”

Most of the players currently on USU’s roster met with Odom earlier in the day and then were also in attendance at the press conference. However, Bean is currently back home in Oklahoma, while guard Steven Ashworth is also away on vacation with his family.

But Odom might have already won over a very notable Aggie alum. He said that Sam Merrill, a second-round NBA draft pick last year currently playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, had reached out to Hartwell and requested Odom’s number.

“What a great guy; he loves this place,” Odom said of Merrill, who ended his career second on USU’s all-time scoring list. “He texted me and said, ‘Whatever you need me to do, coach, I’m here to help you.’ And that’s really professional.”

The son of longtime college basketball coach Dave Odom, Ryan Odom joked that his father, who currently lives in North Carolina, would now have to stay up later to watch Aggie games two or three time zones away. And while Odom has spent his entire coaching career back East, he did note that he and his wife, Lucia, have a history in this part of the country thanks a life-changing vacation 21 years ago.

“On one of these mountains right around here, I got my No. 1 recruit,” Odom proclaimed. “I asked her to marry me, right here in Utah.”

In addition, Odom’s older brother, Lane, was an assistant coach at Missouri for a portion of Quin Snyder’s tenure as the head coach at Missouri. And now Lane, who lives in South Carolina, is currently employed as a scout for the Utah Jazz.

Because of that connection, Odom has developed a personal and professional friendship with Snyder, now in his seventh season as head coach of the Jazz.

“I have had the privilege of knowing Ryan and Lucia for over 20 years,” Snyder told USU Athletic Media Relations. “Additionally, I have followed Ryan’s coaching career from his days as an assistant to the job that he did at UMBC. Ryan has come out to visit us at the Jazz facilities and we had a chance to talk basketball and share ideas. I know how excited he is for this new opportunity at Utah State. He has the experience and passion to continue to build an elite program in Logan.”

Odom said his coaching staff at USU is still being finalized, with the upcoming hire at UMBC possibly delaying those decisions for a little bit. At the time of his departure, Odom’s staff included Nate Dixon, who spent the 2010-11 season as an assistant coach to Heath Schroyer at Wyoming, Matt Henry and Bryce Crawford.