Justin Dukes is a contributor to WARR.com; The City Game focuses coverage on the game of basketball at the amateur levels in and around the city of Chicago
Prior to their loss to Julian High School last Saturday, the Rich East Rockets boys basketball team was in the midst of their longest winning streak of the season, a 3-game run that increased the team’s record to 9-5.
Irony drips behind the timing of this winning streak given the fact that it came in the wake of a time of upheaval in the program as interim coach Jamaal Hodges has taken over for former coach, his father, Craig Hodges.
With the team standing at a solid 6-4 at the time of his departure, what Hodges attributed personal issues can be further described by sources connected to the school as a difference in principles and values with the parents of the team.
In a broader, but simpler, explanation Hodges’ message of hope going forward didn’t resonate to the parents looking for scholarships. Rich East currently ranks 34th in the Illinois Class 3A Rankings and are currently in the middle of the pack with regards to rankings in their own conference which in some eyes could be looked upon as a work in progress, but in other eyes could be looked at as underachieving.
Hodges, a two-time champion with the Chicago Bulls, knows a thing or two about winning on the court but he may be more famously known for his efforts as an social activist during and since his playing days. That very activism fuels Hodges’ stance on why he was blackballed from the NBA as rumored by many, his career ending abruptly in the 1990s despite the championship pedigree and his deserved reputation as one of the league’s greatest shooters.
Fast forward to 2016 — Hodges had since returned to his hometown of Chicago, he was preparing the release of a book, “Long Shot: The Triumphs and Tribulations of an NBA Freedom Fighter,” that detailed his life as a fighter for social justice along with his history as an athlete, and after a couple stints coaching elsewhere, including leading the program at Chicago State, he was looking to make a difference at his Alma mater.
“I’m looking forward to teaching basketball players how to be student-athletes. I want them to understand how to play basketball the right way and put themselves in a position where they can be successful.” Hodges told the Chicago Tribune in 2017.
Things looked promising for Rich East, they only went 12-15 for the 2016-17 season, but they played hard into the postseason. It would seem the momentum would keep moving into 2018 but Hodges surprised many by resigning from his position in late December.
“From a personal standpoint, it is time for me to take a different approach on how I am going to impact Rich East. The love I have for Rich East hasn’t diminished at all.” said Hodges to the Chicago Sun Times.
What the next coach of Rich East should look forward to is a microscope on a program that probably shouldn’t have one placed on it at this point, but in spite of that has players who are coachable and committed.
“I hate to see him go because he’s been a great mentor to me. He has so much first-hand experience, and I got a lot out of playing for him.” Rich East senior guard Vashawn Sims said to the Chicago Tribune in response to Hodges’ departure.
While no longer coaching Rich East, Hodges intends to remain a part of the program, assisting in whatever manner necessary as his son looks to maintain control. The Rockets look to build around this potential rallying point in their next game against the Rich South Stars this evening in Richton Park.