Doing your job virtually might work in some professions, but it’s not ideal for a basketball coach.
That’s exactly what new N.C. Central women’s basketball coach Trisha Stafford-Odom had to do for a while. Stafford-Odom was hired in May to replace former coach Vanessa Taylor. At the time, Stafford-Odom was living in California, where she served as the head coach at Concordia. She made a quick trip east last month, the first time she got a chance to sit down with her new players as their head coach.
But then she was back to the west coast, where she did most of her work over the phone or, thanks to modern technology, a Skype session with her team. After she was hired, Stafford-Odom hit the ground running. Her first order of business was putting together her staff. Already having potential staff members in mind, Stafford-Odom made a quick splash, hiring former N.C. State standout Tynesha Lewis first, then adding NCCU alum, and former coach, A.G. Hall. Stafford-Odom proved she was good at multi-tasking, hunting down recruits while finalizing her staff, all of this from California.
The staff part was easy. As she progressed as a coach she always made a mental list of people she wanted to work with. It was just a matter of those coaches being available and looking for new opportunities. The next thing she wanted to do was assess what she had, talent-wise, back in Durham. Again, she couldn’t see the players up close, she could only go by statistics on her returning players. That was the challenging part.
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“On paper I could see what we didn’t have,” Stafford-Odom said. “But it’s nothing like face to face. Seeing the talent, seeing how people have developed and players have grown, that’s going to be ongoing.”
The Eagles finished 8-21 last season and 7-9 in MEAC play. N.C. Central lost three players to graduation, including leading scorer Morgan Jones, but will bring in four new recruits. One of those new faces was recruited by the previous staff, the other three were hand picked by Stafford-Odom. The former WNBA player said she was never in “desperation mode” when it came to recruiting, even though she was behind a bit, not getting the job until May. The players she’s bringing in, Stafford-Odom said, can score, which is exactly what the Eagles need. Last season N.C. Central was last in the conference in scoring.
No longer having to manage her team from a different time zone, the reality has kicked in now that Stafford-Odom is physically in Durham. She has settled into her office in McDougald-McLendon Arena, where her players can actually stop by and say hello instead of depending on a phone or computer to communicate. She had her first team meeting recently, sitting down with all 10 returning players. It was her first chance to relay her message to the team and see their reactions as they heard her words live.
“The reality stepped up another level,” Stafford-Odom said. “All the emails and text and phone calls are never as good as face to face and the real stuff. To see their faces and to see how they receive me and my staff, they are able to follow a live instruction instead of something they are reading.”
Fear, excitement, anticipation, it didn’t matter. Stafford-Odom was just happy to be in the room with her team for once.
“It was lovely for me,” she said.