The Duke University and the University of North Carolina women’s basketball teams traditionally bring nationally ranked recruiting classes to the Triangle.
In 2013 the Tar Heels brought the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation to Chapel Hill, led by headliners Diamond DeShields (who would win the ACC Rookie of the Year Award), Jessica Washington and Allisha Gray.
Down the road in Durham, Duke brought in the nation’s top class just a few years earlier. The common denominator in both classes: Trisha Stafford-Odom. The California native was an assistant at both ACC powerhouses before taking the head coaching job at Concordia University-Irvine. During a stint at UCLA, Stafford-Odom brought in a No. 3 class, the highest ever recruiting class for the Lady Bruins. On Monday she was named the new head coach at North Carolina Central University, returning to the Triangle, where she is familiar with not only the landscape, but the local talent as well.
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While at Duke and Carolina, Stafford-Odom became known as one of the top recruiters in the business. Of course at Duke and Carolina, both national brands, Stafford-Odom had no limits to how far she could cast her recruiting net. The Lady Eagles aren’t household names like the Tar Heels and Blue Devils, but Stafford-Odom won’t let that stop her from seeking the best talent, wherever they might be, and luring them to N.C. Central.
“No, I won’t say I’ll build a fence around the Triangle area,” Stafford-Odom said. “But first and foremost I want to make home a priority. I want the student-athletes in our area to know they have a home in the Triangle area, and I want to be clear that they are priority. I respect homegrown talent.”
Last year the Eagles watched as several Triangle products came into McDougald-McLendon Arena wearing the opposite color jersey. Taylor Houston (Raleigh) started for Bethune-Cookman, the MEAC regular season champs. Zuri White and Tykyrah Williams each played locally at Hillside High School, right down the road from N.C. Central, but logged heavy minutes for Morgan State University in Baltimore. That’s just a couple of examples of homegrown players who took their talent elsewhere in the MEAC.
And while Stafford-Odom will look in her own backyard first, she won’t be shackled to the state of North Carolina when it comes to recruiting.
“I have been accredited for being able to go out and recruit nationally,” Stafford-Odom said. “And my administration is not putting handcuffs on where we can go to bring the best and most elite to Central.”
Stafford-Odom, who played two years in the WNBA and several more seasons in various professional leagues, has established basketball contacts on all levels. She already has in mind who she wants on her staff, describing crossing paths with people throughout the years by saying “interactions are interviews.”
She built relationships with head coaches back in California, first as a personal trainer, working with the top female prep athletes. That led to an opportunity on the staff at UCLA, where she became the recruiting coordinator.
“I think I established myself as not only a recruiter, but a players coach,” Stafford-Odom said. “A developmental coach and a real person. I think that’s what always stood out. Players, friends, coaches, players who don’t attend a school I’m coaching at they always understand that I care about them and I have an invested interest in them as productive ladies and not a personal gain.”