First stop: Slovakian top tier
Former Norse point guard Xavier Rhodes (6-1, 170 lbs.) is no stranger to frequent travel. As a collegiate basketball player over the past five years, the guy friends and teammates affectionately call “X” – who was born and raised in Kansas City, MO – played for a season at defending Division II national champion Northwest Missouri State and then three seasons for D-II Florida Southern College before making the leap in competition to finish his career at D-I’s Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights.
Countless long road trips winding through the midwest with his NWMU squad, circling through the south with his FSC team and then traversing all parts in between with NKU during his D-I odyssey surely put some well-earned tread on his soul’s proverbial tires. For Rhodes, this all seemed to be part of a bigger plan all along. Perhaps the wily, well-traveled point man was more prepared than most for his next move, when he received the phone call from Europe that ultimately gave birth to his professional basketball career.
After a standout D-II career and a clutch season at NKU where he helped lead the Norse to the NCAA National Championship Tournament, Rhodes signed his first professional contract to play with BC Prievidza of the Nike Slovak Basketball League (SBL). In addition to playing in the SBL’s full regular season and post-season, the league also in affiliated with the FIBA Europe Confederation – BC Prievidza will have the opportunity to compete in the FIBA European Cup and The Slovak Cup.
Founded in 1993 (the league was called Extraliga prior to 2014), the SBL is the highest tier of men’s professional basketball in Slovakia. Interestingly, the league was founded the same year Czechoslovakia split into two independent states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in what is now known as the “Velvet Divorce” due to its peaceful and negotiated nature.
BC Prievidza plays in the second largest arena (Nike Arena) in the 8-team league and has won the third most titles in the league’s history. The storied team was founded in 1947 under the name Sokol Prievizda, long before the formation of the SBL. Rhodes will be playing for head coach Sasa Jankovic, who most recently coached Nova Hut (NH) Ostrava in the neighboring Czech Republic-NBL (Czech Republic’s top tier basketball league).
According to Coach Jankovic, Rhodes is seen as a dynamic, hard-working player who will be counted on to run the BC Prievidza offense on the floor. Sports agent Dusan Simovic, Rhodes’ Europe-based representative with CSA Sports Management, described the former Norse as “a great and responsible guy who has been a pleasure to work with.”
Through his five years of college play, Rhodes played a total of 134 games and averaged 8.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.3 spg while shooting 49% from the field. Rhodes joined the Norse with the luxury of not having pressure to be a high-volume scorer – he was needed primarily to provide a keen mind, steady hand and veteran savvy running the Norse’s meticulous motion offense and frenetic matchup zone defense.
While his offensive numbers may not be eye-popping at first glance, it could be seen as a very promising sign in terms of maturity and skill development that Rhodes actually had more assists (3.62 apg D-I/3.18 apg D-II) and steals (1.97 spg D-I/1.09 spg D-II) as well as shot the ball from behind the arc (D-I 38%/D-II 25%) at a much more productive clip at the D-I level versus his time in D-II.
Although American players travelling overseas to play pro ball for the first time can often encounter a bit of a culture shock that can initially slow their progress both physically and mentally, Rhodes is in a fortunate position where he is joining a team that has five American players rostered, which should bode well for his chances to adjust to his new surroundings and teammates quickly. Rhodes will be playing alongside fellow American college players from Ohio State, McNeese State, Cal State-Santa Barbara and Purdue U. Northwest.
When “X” was first interviewed after signing with the Norse, he stated his primary goal was to use the experience of D-I competition with NKU to put himself in position to play professional basketball after his last college season. https://horizoneroundtable.com/2022/05/19/norse-getting-to-the-point-land-former-d2-national-champ-pg-xavier-rhodes/ He has done just that…his first pro season in Slovakia is slated to start in September.