Every coach will tell you it's hard to replace experience. So, when Milt Wagner took his years of college and professional basketball know-how to join Tony Barbee's staff at UTEP in the summer of 2006, John Calipari looked to add another person who would bring that same background to the Memphis program. Enter Rod Strickland, a 17-year NBA veteran and two-time All-America at DePaul.
Strickland, who joined the Memphis basketball staff as Director of Student-Athlete Development/Manager in the fall of 2006, moved into the position of Director of Basketball Operations in the summer of 2008. In his new role, Strickland is in charge in several "behind-the-scenes" areas for the Tiger program, among them monitoring the student-athletes' academic progress, assisting with travel plans and coordinating recruits' on-campus visits. As Wagner did during his time in Memphis, Strickland is taking classes toward completing his bachelor's degree.
Strickland's addition to the staff has helped the Tigers reached heights the program hasn't seen in some time. During his first two years on the Memphis bench, the Tigers posted an amazing 71-6 record (.922 winning percentage), won back-to-back Conference USA regular season and tournament titles and reached the 2007 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight and 2008 NCAA Tournament championship game. The 71 wins are the second-most by a program in NCAA Division I basketball over a two-year span (Montana State won 72 games from 1928-29).
Last year, Memphis set an NCAA Division I record and a school mark for victories in a single season with 38 wins (38-2 record). The Tigers swept the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles and won the NCAA Tournament South Region crown en route to the NCAA Tournament championship game. Memphis' run to the Final Four was the program's first since 1985 and the NCAA title game appearance was its first since 1973.
In mid-January, Memphis reached the No. 1 spot in both national polls for the first time since 1983, and held down the top position for five-straight weeks during the season. The Tigers won a school-record, 26-straight games, which was also the longest winning streak of any NCAA Division I team during the 2007-08 campaign. For a second-straight year, Memphis posted a perfect 16-0 record in Conference USA play.
In only his first year on the Tiger staff in 2006-07, Strickland made an immediate impact, helping direct Memphis to one of its most successful campaigns in school history. Memphis won 33 games (33-4 record), swept the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight. The Tigers recorded a perfect 16-0 C-USA record, becoming the first squad in Conference USA history to have an unblemished regular season record and also win the league's postseason tournament.
The New York City native came to Memphis after a lengthy and successful career in the NBA. The 6-foot-3 guard was an NBA first round draft pick of the Knicks in 1988, and during his career, Strickland played for New York, San Antonio, Portland, Washington, Miami, Minnesota, Orlando, Toronto and Houston. Strickland played in 1,094 games and scored over 14,000 points (13.2 career average) and dished out nearly 8,000 assists (7.3 career average).
The 1997-98 NBA campaign with Washington was Strickland's best, as he averaged a double-double with 17.8 points and 10.5 assists. His 10.5 assist average led the NBA that year, and he was selected to the All-NBA second team. That year, Strickland also became only the 25th player in NBA history to record 10,000 points and 5,000 assists. He also ranked among the NBA's top 10 in assists in the 1991-92 (5th), 1993-94 (6th), 1994-95 (5th) and 1995-96 (4th) seasons.
Prior to his time in the NBA, Strickland enjoyed a stellar career at DePaul. A 1987 and 1988 All-America pick, Strickland helped lead the Blue Demons to four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 1985-88, including Sweet Sixteen showings in 1986 and 1987. The four-time Blue Demon letterwinner ranks among the program's career leaders in scoring average (8th; 16.6 ppg), assists (3rd; 557) and steals (2nd; 204).
In September of 2008, Strickland was inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame. Joining Strickland in the 19th induction class were Kenny Anderson, Louis Bender, Pete Gillen, Joe Goldstein, Bob McCullough, Sam Perkins and Eddie Younger.