clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Former NC State standout Julius Hodge passes lessons onto his players at Little Rock

The All-American always knew coaching was in his plans after his playing days came to a close

Julius Hodge 
Julius Hodge made coaching stops at Buffalo, Santa Clara and San Jose State before joining the staff at Little Rock.
Photo Courtesy of Julius Hodge

Julius Hodge was one of the best players in the country in the early 2000s. A consensus All-American, he averaged 15.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game over his four years with the Wolfpack. He led N.C. State to the NCAA Tournament each season and was the 2004 ACC Player of the Year.

He was selected 20th overall by the Denver Nuggets in the 2005 NBA Draft. The shooting guard played a total of 23 games in the NBA with Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks before continuing his playing career overseas in Europe, Asia and Australia.

Hodge began his coaching career as the director of player development at Buffalo. From there, he joined the staff of his college coach, Herb Sendek, at Santa Clara. He then moved over to San Jose State before landing at Little Rock, where he is embarking on his third season with the Trojans.

He recently spoke with Mid-Major Madness’ Ian Sacks. Below is their conversation:

Ian Sacks: How did you get into coaching?

Julius Hodge: While I was still playing professionally, I was overseas at the time, my former college coach reached out to me about going into the profession. I turned him down because I was still playing. But I always had in my mind, I either wanted to go into broadcasting, become an analyst or get into coaching. So, it was only a matter of time before what happened.

IS: You majored in communications, right?

JH: Yes, a major in communications with a minor in theater. In all my life, all of my coaches were good men.

So, it started when I was young. Russ Smith Jr., his father, Senior, was my first ever coach. He was the first coach to put the ball in my hand and say, ‘you’re a big point guard.’ That was with the Gauchos AAU program, and then from there I was coached under the famous Dave McCollin, who coached Felipe López, Stephon Marbury, all the great players at the Gauchos. Dave Jones was also a coach there for the Gauchos as well. And Coach Hofred, who was an assistant coach at Providence at one point, coached our 17U team when I was going into my sophomore year of high school. So, I was always around, not only great coaches, but great men.

I always thought at the end of the day, at the end of my road, I would end up coaching. When I got into college and I was playing for Coach Herb Sendek, I had two really great coaches who mentored me in Coach Kenya Hunter, who’s now on the staff at Indiana, and then also coach Larry Harris, who was a former player. I really looked up to those two. So, I knew at some point I wanted to get into coaching. I just didn’t know when.

IS: What brought you to Little Rock?

JH: Coach Walker. Coach Walker and I had developed a good relationship over the years just being in the business. I’ve called him, and he’s offered his advice numerous times. He’d always tell me about the teams that he was coaching. We first got really tight when he was at Clark University, and he would recruit a lot of players who were looking to transfer. A couple of guys I coached played for him and had success. So, we started our relationship there.

Coach Walker is a teacher, who has a great personality. He’s coached at every level of the game from NBA assistant coach or scout, NBA head coach, WNBA, he’s coached in the CBA, every level, every step of the way, DII, DI, he’s coached, and he’s coached it at a very high level.

Being able to be on staff with someone with so much knowledge, I mean, he’s forgotten more basketball than I’ve learned. So, every day being able to tap into that database of knowledge has really helped propel me in terms of the business.

IS: What’s it like now working on his staff and right alongside of him?

JH: You get to see the work ethic. That’s the first thing. First thing he does when he walks in the office is watch film. And as a former player, I came up working hard and knowing the value of working the right way. Seeing someone with this amount of knowledge, who’s been in the game for this long and is still showing a great work ethic, it just goes to show that it never stops. Learning never stops.

IS: You mentioned Herb Sendek a little while ago, your coach at N.C. State. What impact has he had on you both career-wise and personally?

JH: Coach Sendek has always had a positive impact on my life. He’s been a great role model and a great teacher of not just the game but of the game of life. Coach is somebody that when I reach out to him, he’s never going to give you the answer, but he’s going to help you find it. And Coach has always been a positive impact on my life.

IS: You had quite a quite a career with him, ACC Player of the Year, a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, first-round NBA Draft pick. To what did you attribute so much success that you had on the court?

JH: Coach Sendek recruited an NBA player. That’s what he did. I can say that now even more because even though it’s a very small percentage, some recruits walk through the door with more than enough talent, and as a coach you become more of a Joe Torre, a manager as opposed to a developer.

2004 NCAA Basketball: Campbell Camels at North Carolina State Wolfpack
Julius Hodge tallied 15.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists over his four-year career with NC State.
Grant Halverson-USA TODAY Sports

But every day [Coach Sendek worked] with me and not so much on the court but off the court, watching film and helping me get better and become more efficient of a player. I believe when I was at State, my last two or three years, I shot over a 49.5% from the field.

That’s because sitting down and watching film with Coach Sendek and seeing how meticulous he was with making sure that I did the right things and [making sure] I was a better teammate than player or scorer. It helped me a long way, even to this day, because it’s not about me. It’s about ‘we.’

And that’s how whenever a problem may happen or may occur, while I’m coaching, that’s how I look at finding a solution. How am I able to find the answer that can best help ‘we,’ as opposed to just me?

IS: What’s one or two of your favorite memories from your playing days?

JH: I would probably say No. 1 would be my freshman year, playing in the NCAA Tournament against UConn. I had an infamous foul called against me with less than a minute left. Caron Butler was attempting a 3-pointer. To this day, I don’t think I fouled him, but it was called, so that means it was a foul. He made three free throws, and I shot from about half court at the buzzer, to tie it, and I missed. That was my No. 1 memory because although adversity filled, that moment truly propelled me towards greatness.

I knew I was playing against an NBA player to be in Caron Butler. He was a great college ball player and pro. So, I knew I was good enough, but I had to continue putting in the work, and I still had to get better and get more mature as a player on the court in those times, those clutch moments where you need to be a mature player and get a stop. I know I needed to become better. That moment right there I would say is No. 1.

No. 2 would have to be my senior year. It was kind of a redemption game. We were playing in the second round [of the NCAA Tournament] against UConn again, who at the time was the defending national champion. We won a tough game, and I made a shot late in the game that put us up.

So, I would say those two moments really stick out for me.

IS: Incredible how that comes full circle for you, starting with that game freshman year and then getting that redemption, as you said, senior year. That’s really awesome. Amazing the determination and motivation that you drew from that.

What are a couple of lessons that you try to instill in your players now as a coach that you took from your playing days?

JH: I would say the one thing I try to teach our guys is service is the highest form of gratitude. If you can do something to help brighten someone else’s day, you will feel better by doing that as opposed to just doing something for yourself.

The way I translate that to the basketball court is: I get it. Everyone wants to score, and you want to be a man, but if you’re able to make the right play, which leads to someone’s success, you would get more comfort in that than you actually scoring the basket yourself. So, it’s all about being the best teammate. If you’re the best teammate, that in the long run will help you become the best player.

Nowadays, with the Transfer Portal and NIL and everyone getting the opportunity to get paid off of their likeness, young players call it getting to the bag. So, I said, ‘if you want to one day be able to take care of yourself and help your family, be the best teammate that you could be today. And I will help you do that every day. I’ll help you get better, help you better your skills. But if you’re a good teammate, that’s going to show on the court more than anything.’

IS: Speaking of family, going back to your roots in Harlem, playing with the Gauchos and at St. Raymond’s, you leaned heavily on your mother and your older brother when you were growing up. What foundation was set from a young age there?

JH: I’ll start with my mom. I have her quote on my board, and everywhere I coach, I’ll put it up there, and I don’t erase it. It’s simple: ‘Be Better.’

From when I was a young kid, she saw my future and she saw how dedicated I was. Her stance with me was always ‘Be Better.’ If I did something wrong in school, she would say ‘Be Better.’ If I had success, ‘Be Better.’ If there was adversity along the road, her advice was always the same: ‘Be Better.’ So, I still hold on to that dearly.

From my big brother, it was just being an all-around good person. My brother is the type of person who has no enemies, and he’s a friend to everyone, and everyone loves him. I grew up seeing that. So, I always wanted to make sure that I did the right things, not just on the court, but most importantly, off the court and in the classroom to make those two proud. And I think I’m on the right path.

IS: You definitely are. Coach, anything else you could think of?

JH: I would say, as an assistant coach, everyone wants to one day become a head coach and run and lead their own program. My advice for young coaches is be a star in your role. And that means live in the moment. I know we all have aspirations of becoming a head coach and doing great things, and that will happen in due time, but you have to enjoy the moment and be a star in your role.

So, if that means right now for Coach Walker, I have to make sure we recruit the best talent and most importantly, we recruit character and driven, hardworking young people, that’s what I’m going to do. If that means we need to have the best skill development program in the country, we will reach our goal. And when my opportunity comes eventually to become a head coach, I will be ready.

Learn every part of the business, and not just Xs and Os, because for a lot of us, especially former players, that’s the easy part. If you’re charismatic, recruiting will be very easy as well. But also learn about your Academic Progress Rate (APR). Learn about NIL and all of the dealings and workings with that. Make sure you know all the NCAA rules and that you make sure yourself as well as the rest of the staff are following the rules to a tee. And if you’re able to do that, you will ensure your long-term success.