As the Grambling men’s basketball team gets set to begin the season with a five-game road trip, the revamped Tigers welcome a new coaching staff as they hope to change the culture of the infamous reputation of the program.
“The basketball program has been in disarray over the last couple years,” said Donald Royal, one of the new assistant coaches. “Hopefully we can change the whole attitude around here.”
After being selected to replace Bobby Washington as head coach, Joseph Price made several phone calls, mostly to Notre Dame alums, to construct his team of assistant coaches – Ray Martin, Allen Odum and Royal.
Except for Odum, the coaching staff’s roots connect them back to Notre Dame where they spent their collegiate career.
Price and Royal were teammates, while Martin graduated before them. Martin considers the Notre Dame relationship like a fraternity.
The Fighting Irish alums’ ability to remain in contact throughout the years allowed them to join forces at Grambling.
“The three of us cut from the same bread,” Price said.
Royal admits that he has been “personal friends” with Price for about 25 years.
“We have known each other since we were 17,” the assistant coach said.
Without any previous collegiate coaching experience, Royal’s resume would appear unqualified compared to the other coaches. However, that’s without mentioning that he was a professional basketball player for 13 years in the NBA and in Europe.
While in the NBA, Royal made appearances with the Orlando Magic, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs and Charlotte Hornets (now New Orleans Hornets).
As a volunteer coach this year, Royal hopes to transfer his wisdom of the game to help improve the Tigers and work closely with Grambling’s “big men.”
Coach Price, who described Odum as a “young grinder,” said Odum completes the puzzle with his “energy and enthusiasm to get things done.”
Coach Price has never coached at an HBCU before. He knew the importance of finding an assistant coach who could relate to the players and had experience dealing with HBCUs.
As the youngest on the coaching staff, Odum is best able to relate to the players. In addition, Grambling is Odum’s second stop at an HBCU. He was previously an assistant coach at Mississippi Valley State, a big contender for the SWAC championship.
“I am able to relate to players. I have the unique ability to find talent that is flying under the radar,” said Odum.
He understands that “Grambling is not going to get the guys that are going to LSU.” But at an HBCU, “It’s essential to find guys to fit what you need.” Instead of focusing on finding that one superstar player, most HBCUs focus on the next level of talented players.
Grambling is stepping away from having just one superstar in favor of “five guys that complement each other.”
Martin’s 30 years in the basketball industry has allowed him to coach on all levels.
“I was fortunate to be a part of the national championship at North Carolina State in 1983,” said the Long Island City, Queens, N.Y., native in a telephone interview as he prepared to rejoin the Tigers for their first road trip.
Martin will focus on the guards and the small forwards, but is very familiar with “all phases of the game.”
He has coached more than 10 professional players including Allan Houston and Spud Webb.
The common trend among all the coaches is to get better with every game. The Tigers hope to be playing their best basketball going into conference play in January.
“Once you get into (SWAC) play, it’s anybody’s ball game,” Odum said. “We believe that if the guys come together and buy into what we are selling, we have just as good a chance as anyone to win the SWAC.”
The Tigers will tip off the season with a road game in Ohio against Cleveland State University on Friday and travel to Muncie, Ind., to play Ball State University on Sunday.
Before returning to Grambling, they will pay Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, on Tuesday.
“They are all going to be rough because on the road there are no easy games,” said Martin.
“We are trying to come home with a couple wins,” said Price.