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He was once Lebanon Valley College’s all-time scoring leader (now he’s No. 3), but he still holds Dutchmen records for free-throw percentage (.845), assists (668), and steals (212).
One of his coaches at LVC, Pat Flannery, described him as the ultimate team player.
And now – he’s head coach of the Penn State men’s basketball team.
Mike Rhoades, LVC Class of 1995, was officially named to the position at a University Park press conference on Thursday, March 30.
Rhoades takes the role after most recently being head coach of the men’s team at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he led the Rams to three tournament appearances and two Atlantic 10 conference titles.
“Mike was a leader on and off the court through his dedication, positive attitude, work ethic, and integrity,” LVC’s current men’s basketball coach, Brad McAlester, said in a press release about Rhoades being named to the Penn State position. McAlester overlapped with Rhoades for the Mahanoy City-native’s senior year in Annville.
What stands out in archival coverage of Rhoades’ time in Lebanon County is how early he had his eyes set on coaching, and how his potential for a world-class coaching career stood out early to those who would know best.
“From day one, he’s had all the attributes to be one of the nation’s top coaches,” said McAlester.
“There was only one thing Mike Rhoades was ever going to do – and that was coach,” Flannery told the Houston Chronicle when Rhoades got his first Division I head coaching position at Rice University in 2014.
His journey didn’t begin at LVC – it began in the coal region, where he ran the hills and bulked up in the weight room as a high school player, showing a “blue-collar work ethic,” as his uncle and high school coach Mickey Holland once told the Lebanon Daily News about Rhoades, the son of a longtime state senator.
But his tenure at LVC was undoubtedly pivotal in his career and life, and not just because it’s where he met his wife, Jodie Smith Rhoades, herself a 1996 graduate of LVC and a standout collegiate field hockey player.
“If you’ve got a pulse and you’re not living in a cave somewhere, you should really get out and see Mike Rhoades play,” Bill Warner wrote in the Basketball Notebook on Feb. 10, 1994. “Because the junior point guard of the best Lebanon Valley College basketball team in 21 years is really something special.”
That year, Rhoades led the Flying Dutchmen to a 66-59 overtime victory against NYU to win the 1994 NCAA Division III National Championship – a true David vs. Goliath matchup, pitting the smallest school in the tournament against the largest. Rhoades was profiled by Sports Illustrated shortly afterward.
Paul Baker, at the time city editor for the Daily News, was there in the stands for the championship run, describing the experience as the LVC community’s ride of a lifetime and chronicling a wild post-game party at a Holiday Inn, which he said was a “frenzied romp” with a hard-to-articulate level of collective euphoria.
“Everyone danced; everyone cheered,” wrote Baker. “Strangers hugged and high-fived. Unrestrained tears of joy splashed into celebratory drinks.”
As Baker put it, “In all, it was indeed the ride of a lifetime.”
Rhoades finished his career at LVC with another conference championship and a second trip to the tournament, where the Dutchmen had their post-season run halted by a 102-91 loss to Goucher College.
As the Daily News editorialized at the time about the “greatest irony of all” regarding the season:
“That the glorious Mike Rhoades era at Lebanon Valley College would end with a loss. Either the Flying Dutchmen repeat as national champions – so improable that it’s virtually impossible – or they end their season with a loss.
“That’s what happened. The senator’s son from Mahanoy City who embodied an era of greatness at LVC and his senior teammates – Jason Say, Mark Hofsass and Keith Adams – went out with a heartbreaking loss.
“But that’s now how they will be remembered. Lebanon Valley College and basketball fans across the Lebanon Valley will remember them forever as the winners they truly are.”
“Everything, my experiences at Lebanon Valley molded me into who I am, what I believe as a coach and how we play,” said Rhoades in a 2020 interview with Jeff Falk.
“Especially the tough times, the things that didn’t go my way. They helped me out the most.”
Rhoades relationship with LVC has continued forward well past his graduation.
In addition to returning to the college for basketball camps early in his coaching career, Mike and Jodie Rhoades are boosters for the Dutchmen athletic program, and Mike and McAlester have documented their continuing relationship through social media.
As for what fans can expect from Rhoades at Penn State – if his introductory press conference is any indication, more of the same. Lots of hard work and that blue collar work ethic his uncle remarked on nearly 30 years ago.
“We wanna build something that is bold, different and aggressive and not be afraid,” said Rhoades of his plan for the Nittany Lions squad.
“I know – like the people of this commonwealth and this university – every day we’re gonna go to work. We will be blue collar, we will have dirt on our hands, and we’ll be damn proud of it. That’s who we are around here, and that’s who our basketball program is going to become.”
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