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New men's basketball coach Ryan Odom calls UMBC a 'sleeping giant'

Ryan Odom, the new UMBC head men's basketball coach, was introduced to the UMBC campus community. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)

Ryan Odom pulled a folded sheet of paper out of his black suit — talking points — and rarely needed to consult it. UMBC's new men's basketball coach knows what he wants and how to articulate that vision.

He might not have forseen the emotion that would accompany his words, though.

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Roughly three minutes into his introductory speech Thursday afternoon on the top floor of UMBC's library, where cheerleaders shook pompoms and the mascot interacted with fans before the coach took to the lectern, Odom's eyes reddened and his throat gave out. He cried as he talked about the people he left at Lenoir-Rhyne, the Division II school he guided to the national quarterfinals in February.

"I'm confident I'll love you guys the same way," he said to his UMBC players, sitting in the back two rows of seats.

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Odom continued. More words that struggled to pierce through his emotion.

"Excuse me for this," he said, sheepish about all the tears. "This is ridiculous."

The crowd laughed and the coach was back on track.

It isn't difficult to win over a room during your introductory news conference, but Odom, 41, hopes to have a longer hold over Retrievers players and supporters.

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A 400-game winner believes he'll do just that.

"His best quality is his ability to relate to people," said Dave Odom, the former Wake Forest and South Carolina coach, and Ryan's father.

The elder Odom didn't think his son would get into coaching. Ryan, a Hampden-Sydney point guard and economics major, seemed more the "Wall Street type." Actually, Ryan didn't seriously consider coaching until an internship his senior year with Bank of America. Banking wasn't for him.

His father's job was much more appealing.

He hooked on as a graduate assistant with Seth Greenberg's staff at South Florida and began paying his dues. He's still doing that.

Odom takes command of a program that has endured losing seasons the last eight years, and 13 out of the last 14.

He said he believes his program is a "sleeping giant" — what coach doesn't? — because the location and academic rigors of the school "attract achievers."

The work began Tuesday, when Odom and his family arrived in Baltimore. He met with his players and then put them through a light practice. They worked exclusively on offense — maybe a signal of what's to come.

Odom is an offensive-minded coach who said, "It's no secret I love to score the basketball." His team at Lenoir-Rhyne averaged more than 12 3-pointers and 90 points per game in his lone season there. The year before his arrival, that team averaged seven 3s and 65 points per game.

Athletic director Tim Hall wanted somebody with head coaching experience. Odom had that in one year at Lenoir-Rhyne, and previously as the interim head coach for 19 games at UNC-Charlotte, where he posted an 8-11 record in place of Alan Major, who took a medical leave.

Hall also hopes his new coach builds from within Baltimore. Hall referenced the Tip O'Neill phrase, "All politics is local."

"We're going to have to win Baltimore and this region, in terms of recruiting," Hall said. "That doesn't mean that every player has to be from Baltimore, but we have to have a strong Balitmore presence."

Odom replaces Aki Thomas, who went 28-95 in four years. Nowhere to go, but up.

An $85-million arena is scheduled to open at the end of 2017.

Odom knows the challenge will be huge.

"I'm not a savior," he said.

twitter.com/MarkRSelig

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