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Julius Hodge learning what it takes to be a successful coach while impacting the lives of young men

By Tom Ballato

The NCAA college coaching carousel is in full effect this time of year. Head coaches move on to other programs, assistants are promoted, and coaches retire. Notable jobs have already been filled, and some programs will wrap up their coaching search shortly, but there are many moving parts this time of the year. 

Julius Hodge, a name you might remember from his days dominating the ACC while at NC State, is moving up the coaching ranks.

Introduced to the game of basketball by his older brother Steve, Hodge began playing at a young age, and by the age of 12, he realized he could use basketball as an avenue to receive a higher education. While playing for the New York Gauchos, an iconic AAU program, Hodge grew his game, developed a hard-working mindset, and knew he would have a shot at playing collegiately and beyond. 

Hodge went on to play collegiately at NC State. “I would describe my time at NC State as life-changing. I was very fortunate to connect with Herb Sendek, my college coach, who helped me navigate through my ups and downs on the court during my time in college,” said Hodge. He also connected with Larry Harris and Kenya Hunter, who Hodge credits to his college success. 

In his four years at NC State, Hodge scored over 2,000 points and made the NCAA Tournament every year. The ability to post up, get his teammates involved, and get out in transition intrigued NBA teams. Hodge improved his jump shot at NC State and played a big point guard role, making him versatile in NBA general managers’ eyes. 

After 26 workouts with NBA teams during his pre-draft process, the Denver Nuggets selected him 20th overall in the 2005 NBA Draft. Hearing his name called was a special moment for his family, who were sitting with him in the crowd at Madison Square Garden. 

Hodge played two seasons in the NBA before making stops in NBA D League, Italy, Australia, Venezuela, China, Iran, Belarus, Vietnam, France, and Canada. Hodge retired from professional basketball at 30. 

Coaching on the Mind

While playing in Australia, Phil Smyth, head coach of the Adelaide 36ers, put coaching back on Hodge’s mind. Smyth was an energetic player’s coach that simplified the game when teaching it. “I learned a ton from him, and when I look back at my playing career, he’s my favorite coach of all-time. The way he was able to communicate difficult concepts, mechanically break them down and make them simplistic in terms of learning for his players, was amazing,” Hodge said. 

Hodge also credits Kenya Hunter in college for getting his coaching gears turning with the lifelong relationships he created. Hodge realized what he wanted to do after his playing career ended and be like Hunter, a great father and mentor to young athletes. 

The wheels were turning in the back of his mind, and mentors established an excellent foundation in his life. 

Coaching Career

After retiring, Hodge worked for the ACC Digital Network broadcasting for about six months. Hodge’s friend, Levi Watkins, current assistant coach at Ole Miss, told him about an opening on Buffalo’s staff. Watkins was with Buffalo at the time but left with Bobby Hurley for Arizona State. 

In 2015, Hodge’s coaching career started at the University of Buffalo as the director of player development under Nate Oats. He enjoyed broadcasting, but the opportunity to coach was too good to pass up. 

Hodge was Buffalo’s academic liaison, made sure students were attending class and thriving academically. Working alongside administration and coaches, success both on and off the court was a priority for Buffalo’s coaching staff. 

Moving up the coaching ranks, Santa Clara hired him in March of 2016 as an assistant coach. He joined his former college coach, Herb Sendek’s staff, where Santa Clara improved from previous seasons. While on staff, the team reached the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals in 2017, an accomplishment for the program headed in the right direction. After two seasons at Santa Clara, Hodge headed to San Jose State.

Julius Hodge with Herb Sendek (center) and Barret Peery. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara Athletics.

For the past three seasons, Hodge has been an assistant for San Jose State University men’s basketball team. At San Jose State, his duties are extensive and include recruiting. With recruiting, comes evaluating and for Hodge, with his personality and knowledge of the game, it’s allowed him to approach and recruit the right players. 

Having the right players in your college program makes all the difference in on-court success. Studying film and creating scouting reports is a job that Hodge enjoys. Preparing the team for their opponents and having the team play their brand of basketball is something engrained into his daily routine.

Hodge, head of skill development at San Jose State, has been put in a great position to learn, lead, and put himself in place to be a head coach when that opportunity arises. Since the start of the pandemic, Hodge has been reaching out to coaches, administrators and gaining knowledge, so he is more than prepared to take the next step in his career.

Once again, becoming a student of the game, Hodge has done a lot of studying as a coach. He looks at what Bill Self has built at Kansas, likes their style of play, playing with two big men and three guards who are interchangeable. A lot of Hodge’s philosophy comes from the Bill Self tree in terms of style of play. His teaching philosophy is “to Connect and Serve.” Connect with the young men, coaching and molding them into successful men once they graduate college and serving them and the community.

Hodge has built a foundation through hard work and success, something instilled in him by his brother and mentors, but he’s still scratching the surface in his young coaching career. It is only a matter of time before the former NC State star gets an opportunity to be a head coach, but in the meantime, Hodge will continue to mentor and impact the lives of young men just like he was. 

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