At the Point Rod Strickland Remains Unguarded

When you think about the great point guards in the history of DePaul basketball, it almost certainly begins and ends with Rod Strickland. He was truly a DePaul legend. For his merits on the court, he was inducted into the DePaul Athletic Hall of Fame on Saturday, February 11th. To this day most people proclaim he was the best, and for the point guards who followed in his footsteps, none of them have lived up to the enormous shadow he left.

Strickland, a product of Truman High School in the Bronx, came to DePaul in the fall of 1985. His decision of coming to DePaul was continuing a tradition set by the likes of previous New York area kids, like Gary Garland, Kenny Patterson, and Clyde Bradshaw. Those players established a pipeline, set earlier by legendary DePaul coach Ray Meyer, which led from New York to Chicago. However, it was Strickland who raised the bar. He led his team to two Sweet 16 appearances and another NCAA second round showing. How special is that? Well consider DePaul hasn't been to the Sweet 16 since Strickland left DePaul.

Strickland has some special memories while at DePaul. "The fondest memory I remember, (was) my first year, playing a tough schedule, and getting in the NCAA tournament. I think we had a 16-12 record. But we had one of the toughest schedules in America. I remember being in the back room waiting to hear our name for the NCAA tournament." His wish was granted and DePaul subsequently beat favorites Virginia and Oklahoma in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. DePaul ran out of gas in their upset run, losing to Duke in the Sweet 16, 74-67.

Strickland and DePaul only got better the following season (1986-87). It was a special year. They ended the year 28-3 after yet another Sweet 16 appearance, eventually losing to Louisiana State. Strickland and company followed up with yet another fine season in 1987-88. DePaul ended the season 22-8 after Kansas State knocked them out in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Following the 1987-88 season, Strickland, though only a junior, felt he had done enough in his time at DePaul and declared for the NBA Draft. The moment stood out for Strickland. "Obviously, being drafted in the first round, going to the Knicks, my hometown team (was special). Just being blessed to play 17 years in the NBA. Not many guys play 17 years. I feel blessed and fortunate. But, it was a lifelong dream that I was able to attain. It was a special 17 years."

Strickland did indeed have a standout career in the NBA. He ranks seventh all time in the NBA in assists with 7,948. He has scored over 14,000 points and was named to the All-NBA Second Team in the 1997-98 season. He became the 25th player to score at least 10,000 points and 5,000 assists in that same season (97-98).

No other point guard that has passed through the halls of DePaul can match what Strickland did at the NBA level, no other guard for that matter.

Strickland had nothing but praise for his running mate in the backcourt, Kevin Edwards, for his final two years at DePaul. "Yeah, that was my guy, that's still my guy. One of my best teammates, one of my best backcourt mates. All I had to do was find him and it was going to be a bucket. It was a pleasure playing with him." Strickland and Edwards formed quite a duo at DePaul, perhaps the best backcourt in college basketball in the 1987-88 season. Oddly enough, Strickland and Edwards went back-to-back in the 1988 NBA Draft with the 19th and 20th picks, respectively. To this day Strickland and Edwards still go hand in hand.

"That was cool (being drafted back-to-back). I think everybody kind of knew about me, but Kev was kind of the sleeper. People kind of slept on Kev, in his two years here. Then we were able to go to the Olympic trials and Kev stepped up and was killing everybody in the Olympic trials. For us to go back-to-back and then we were on the Second Team All-Rookie team that following year. I got a kick out of that."

Strickland still keeps in touch with Edwards and other ex-DePaul players. "I speak to Tony Jackson, Kevin Holmes, Kevin Edwards, I spoke to Marty Embry the other day. So, yeah I speak to those guys."

Strickland also keeps up with the current squad and knows about Sammy Mejia, his fellow Bronx native.

"I have heard of the kid, Mejia, so I kind of followed him a little bit. He can play. I don't know really know too much about the other guys, but I know the kid Mejia and I like his game and he's 6-6 / 6-7. He can handle the ball and make plays. I think he has a great opportunity to go to the next level." It might be a stretch, but it's somewhat possible that Mejia and Strickland can share the stage together. You see, Rod is not done playing basketball and is not content being retired. "It's funny, cause I just had an agent I spoke to yesterday about a team. So there is small possibility that I could play this year. But if I don't play in the NBA, which I doubt, I‘ll probably go overseas and play somewhere else. I still got it in me."

Strickland still loves the game that has been special to him. "I'm satisfied. Like I said, three years at DePaul, 17 years in the NBA. I mean as a kid who would have thought it? You know, I know I wouldn't have. Nowadays, high school kids they know they are going to the league. Back then you didn't even know if you were ready to play Division I college basketball. So I have been blessed. I wouldn't do anything different."

Strickland still resonates with the youth. He met up with childhood friend Curtis Washington who brought his son's entire seventh grade traveling basketball team, the Champlin Park Rebels from Champlin, Minnesota (a suburb northwest of Minneapolis), for his induction ceremonies. Strickland would like to reach out to the youth after he is done playing by someday becoming a coach.

"I would like to coach, scout, some type (of field in basketball). I would eventually like to get to the coaching. But right now, I just want to get my foot in the door so whatever that is, but eventually I would like to be a coach."

Strickland has bounced around, playing for nine teams in 17 seasons and the voyage is not over. Where the voyage takes him next is unseen, but he will always have a special place in the hearts of DePaul fans.

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