LOGAN — At first glance, new Utah State men's basketball coach Ryan Odom doesn't appear to have any connections to the state he now calls home. He was born in North Carolina, went to school in Virginia, and his coaching career has spanned up and down the Eastern seaboard.
But 21 years ago, it was Utah that served as the beginning of his journey. He and his then-girlfriend, Lucia, ventured to Utah on a vacation. He can't recall why Utah was chosen exactly — just that the pair wanted to go out West — but it wasn't just any vacation.
"One of these mountains right around here, I got my No. 1 recruit," Odom said Wednesday at his introductory press conference. "I asked her to marry me right here in Utah."
As Odom puts it, "life has come full circle."
The connections don't end there for the former University of Maryland-Baltimore coach, who inked a five-year contract worth just shy of $4 million with the Aggies this week.
If he is in any need of some tips, he's got a pretty good resource in the state: Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder.
Odom's brother, Lane, is a scout for the Jazz and was on Snyder's staff at Missouri in the early 2000s. So naturally, Odom and Snyder have gotten to know each other through the years, with Odom even coming out to Salt Lake City to spend time around the Jazz.
In 2018, former UMBC guard Jairus Lyles played in the NBA Summer League for the Jazz and then ended up playing in five preseason games before spending the year with the Salt Lake City Stars. So before the 2018-19 NCAA season began, Odom came out to Utah not only to see Lyles but to see Snyder, as well. Odom watched the preseason workouts, talked basketball with the Jazz head coach, and even stole a play.
"Ryan has come out to visit us at the Jazz facilities and we had a chance to talk basketball and share ideas," Snyder said in a statement. "I know how excited he is for this new opportunity at Utah State. He has the experience and passion to continue to build an elite program in Logan."
Odom said Snyder had sent Utah State athletic director John Hartwell a text telling him to ask the new head coach about the play "five."
That play? A side out-of-bounds play.
"He ran it a lot better than we did — put a few wrinkles into it," Snyder said.
Like Snyder, Odom believes in numbers advantages. The Jazz have the best record in the NBA this season by virtue of being one of the most efficient offenses and most efficient defenses — shoot a lot of 3s and try to limit their opponents from doing the same thing. Odom said he'd like to see the Aggies play that same way.
"We want to score at the rim, we want to make 3s, we want to get to the free-throw line," Odom said. "You want to do the reverse of that on the other end: You want to limit how much you foul. You don't want to get torched from 3, and you don't want to let people get layups on you. If you do a really good job, those three things, you're going to be a balanced team — you're going to be in every game."
Odom has got the mother of all examples to point toward. UMBC made history and became the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament, beating Virginia, in 2018. In that game, the Retrievers were 12-of-24 from 3-point range and were 10-of-14 from the free-throw line. Virginia, meanwhile, was limited to just four made 3s and eight total free throws.
Utah State hasn't won a tournament game since 2001 — a first-round losing streak that has grown to eight games. But unlike his past coaching jobs, Odom doesn't see a program in need of an overhaul — just the opposite, really.
We want to score at the rim, we want to make 3s, we want to get to the free-throw line. You want to do the reverse of that on the other end: You want to limit how much you foul. You don't want to get torched from 3, and you don't want to let people get layups on you. If you do a really good job, those three things, you're going to be a balanced team — you're going to be in every game.
–Utah State head coach Ryan Odom
The Aggies haven't advanced out of the first round in recent history, but they have qualified for three straight tournaments and boast plenty of hardware from the Craig Smith era. Sam Merrill was a second-round NBA Draft pick and has gotten some time for an Eastern Conference favorite, and Neemias Queta will get a shot at the NBA this summer. The program has has multiple conference championship trophies — Utah State basketball has a lot to proud of as of late.
"It's an opportunity to build upon a winning culture — this is a little bit different for me," Odom said.
In his first meeting with his new team, he told the team, "You didn't choose me, I chose you." He's had other opportunities to leave UMBC, but this one he felt was the perfect fit. The cupboard isn't bare. He's simply hoping to build on what Smith did to push the USU program to new heights.
"Where do we want to go? We want to be a top 25 team year in and year out, we want to advance in the NCAA Tournament — we have the support here in order to do that." Odom said. "It's on us to get it done right, and that's what we'll work towards every day. We'll fall short at times and that's OK, that's how you get where you want to go."