Norse getting to the point; land former D2 national champ PG Xavier Rhodes

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Every good basketball team needs a rock solid point guard to run the show, a player that can serve as the proverbial “coach on the court.”  A steadying force on the hardwood that, without hesitation, has the in-game IQ to push the ball up the court quickly and see in his mind’s eye what’s about to happen…before it happens.  The coaches at Northern Kentucky University believe they have found that player in Division II transfer point guard Xavier Rhodes (6-1, 170), who chose to leave Florida Southern College to finish out his college career at the D-I level with the Norse.

What NKU is getting in Rhodes is an experienced, productive player and proven winner who has performed at the highest levels of D-II college basketball. As an All-State guard coming out of Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Rhodes stayed in-state by signing with the defending D-II National Champions of Northwest Missouri State University.   NMSU has dominated the D-II basketball landscape since 2017, having won four national titles between 2017-2022 (2017, 2019, 2021, 2022).  Rhodes has a championship ring to show for his lone (18-19’) year at NMSU, where he averaged 2.7 points per game in 30 games, finishing the season with a respectable 2.31-1 Assist-to-Turnover ratio for the 38-0 Bearcats.

After his national championship season, Rhodes felt buried in a very deep roster at NMSU and chose to transfer to fellow D-II powerhouse Florida Southern College in the south-central city of Lakeland. At FSC, Rhodes managed to work his way into the lineup very quickly for a strong team coming off a 25-8 season. 

Through Rhodes’ four seasons of D-II college basketball, he has come to expect nothing less than winning, as evidenced by the combined record of 90-21 (.811 win percentage) between the two successful programs for which he played.  That veteran leadership, matched up with winning attitude, pedigree of success and high expectations, is likely what the Norse coaching staff saw in Rhodes.  After entertaining a barrage of phone calls and texts from recruiters through April and early May, Rhodes stated that his final choice came down to NKU and fellow D-I school Central Connecticut State of the Northeast Conference (NEC).  Ultimately, Rhodes chose to wear black and gold for his final college season.    

By The Numbers…

2018-19:

@ NMSU (38-0, National Champion)

  • Played in 30 games
  • 2.7 points per game
  • Shot 43% from the field
  • Assist-to-Turnover Ratio – 2.31:1

2019-20:

@ FSC (29-2)

  • Played in all 31 games
  • 18.5 minutes per game
  • 5.6 ppg / Shot 55.2% from the field
  • 2.0 rebounds per game
  • 81 assists – (2.61 apg) 3rd on team despite playing less than 20 minutes per game
  • 28 steals

2020-21:

@ FSC (7-5) / COVID-shortened season

  • Promoted to starting PG
  • Played in all 12 games
  • 36.2 minutes per game
  • 13.8 ppg / Shot 49.2% from the field
  • 4.4 rpg
  • 64 assists – (5.33 apg) Led the team
  • 28 steals – (2.33 per game) Led the team
  • 15 blocks – 2nd on team

2021-22:

@ FSC (16-14)

  • Played and started 27 games
  • 31.8 minutes per game
  • 14.5 ppg – Shot 51% from the field, which led all shooters with 100 or more attempts
  • 4.2 rpg / 37 offensive rebounds, 3rd on team
  • 143 assists – (5.3 apg)  Led the team
  • 45 steals – (1.67 per game) Led the team
  • 18 blocks – Led the team

How would Rhodes’ stats compare to…

Just weeding through Rhodes’ most recent season statistics at Florida Southern and where his production would have fit into this past season’s Norse squad, the findings are impressive.  Now, this is where equal comparisons are important.  While it is fair to say, “Well, those stats are against D-II competition, right?” it would also be reasonable to theorize that at NKU, he will be surrounded by a cast that would presumably be more talented and lend even more to showing what kind of player he can be when lined up with proven D-I talent.  Iron sharpening iron, so to speak.

With the early May departure of recent graduate and starting point guard Bryson Langdon, the Norse menu of PGs was trimmed down to two talented walk-on players in Jake Evans and newcomer Mitchel Minor.  Though Evans has experience running the point for NKU, his playing time has always been subdued due to Langdon’s steady presence the past three years. 

That all said, Rhodes is coming in and expecting to compete for the starting nod at the point.  His 2021-22 scoring production (14.5 ppg) at FSC would have placed him as NKU’s second leading scorer as well as the Horizon League’s #13 scoring threat.  When not looking to score, his ability to distribute the ball for a basket in 2021-22 (143 assists, 5.3 apg) could be described as on the elite level.  These assist numbers would have made Rhodes NKU’s most prolific passer, outpacing Bryson Langdon’s 126 assists and 3.9 apg production…the same Langdon who ranked fifth in Horizon League assists. 

Looking at the bigger picture, Rhodes’ assist production would have placed him not only in the Horizon League’s #2 spot behind Oakland’s assist machine Jalen Moore (7.9 apg), his numbers would also have placed him well in D-I’s Top 25 assist rankings.  With a 51% field goal percentage and 26% from behind the arc, it is clear that Rhodes takes (and hits) higher percentage shots, which is compatible with an aggressive player who doesn’t hesitate to drive the lane hard and force contact.  This combines well with his hearty offensive rebounding production, as his 37 offensive boards would have placed him as NKU’s third most effective rebounder on the offensive end in 2021-22, behind only twin forwards Chris Brandon and Youngstown State-bound Adrian Nelson. 

Rhodes describes himself as a “gym rat” who loves the game and wants to “play until my legs fall off,” a gamer that plays hard on both ends of the court.  What he does with the ball in his hands is clear, but his effort on defense (45 steals – would have been second behind only Sam Vinson’s 66 and 18 blocks – would have been #2 behind only Brandon) is what will hopefully make it hard to pull him off the court in Coach Darrin Horn’s style of play.        

Why NKU?

In his own words….“Coach (David) Harris was my primary contact at NKU. We built a great relationship from the start before having my visit. I did visit there and first, was amazed how close it was to Cincinnati and the city, so that was neat to see for sure. I got to meet Coach Horn, Coach E (Haut), Coach McCormack, some of the players and the rest of the staff on the team. But I felt comfortable with them from the moment I got there. They saw me from my tape and told me that they were losing a guard at my position and someone who plays that similar style on both ends of the floor, so everything matched perfectly. Of course, nothing is given so I am willing to work to earn that spot and be able to prove myself I can play at this level.”

In speaking with Rhodes, he comes off as a very bright, self-aware, confident yet humble athlete who is hungry to play at the D-I level.  Once here, he will be content to earn his minutes, improve his game and ultimately work toward eventually playing professional basketball, whether it be in the U.S. or overseas.  Rhodes stated his goal is to work hard enough this offseason to improve his overall athleticism and strength, to get stronger so that he will be able to confidently play through contact at this level. 

What does Rhodes believe he can bring to the team on Day 1? 

In his words, “I say my strengths are getting the ball up the floor fast. I am more of a pass-first kind of guy, so I enjoy getting my teammates going, and of course I am willing to get a bucket of my own. I feel like the skillset that sold myself the best was how I was able to use my athleticism to get into the lane easily and make the right read. I have a solid assist/turnover ratio and I am big on turnovers so even if its 1 or 2, I am not satisfied with that because the point guard duty is to take care of the ball. But regardless of that, I play hard even through my mistakes. No matter if I am having the best or worst game of my life, I still need to do the job to help the team win.

My role on the floor at FSC was to run the show and be able to control the game. On and even off the court I would say I’m a kind of “lead by example” type of person, but at the same time I am vocal on the floor as well. I love to build relationships not with just my teammates and coaches but the community that I am welcome in. I like getting to know new people and being out of my comfort zone because relationships can last forever.”

In researching the D-II point guards who were available in the Transfer Portal, it is abundantly clear that NKU was able to snag one of the most talented and complete D-II point guards available at the time.  Replacing Bryson Langdon will be no easy task, he ran the Norse offense well for years before graduating and pursuing a pro career of his own.  But Rhodes – who feels he models his game a bit around the likes of NBA stars Allen Iverson, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving – seems to be the right player at the right time for the Norse, who look to return to the post-season in 2022-23, after losing to Wright State in last season’s Horizon League Championship game. 

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