Rodi pushes culture, defense in first year

Jonah Rosenblum
Record-Courier
Aurora senior Gabriel Elsawy leaps through Kent Roosevelt seniors Kristian Daetwyler (left) and Jayden Triplett (right) during the first half of the basketball game, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Kent, Ohio.

As Greg Rodi settles into his first head coaching job, leading the Greenmen boys basketball team to a 3-3 start thus far, he looks around Aurora's campus.

The football team makes the postseason (and often deep runs in the tournament) on an annual basis. The baseball and boys soccer teams are traditionally in contention for conference and district championships. Wrestling has turned into a state power.

"I really felt that a lot of these dudes are the same kids," Rodi said. "We have really good athletes. They're super smart. They're coachable."

Rodi's belief in the Greenmen's ability to garner championships isn't just built in looking around campus. It's built in the three years he spent as a member of coach Erika Greenberg's staff as the Aurora girls basketball team snagged Suburban American championship after Suburban American championship.

"I just feel like there's no reason that we can't do the same on the boys' side," Rodi said. "Again, we have a long way to go, Rome wasn't built in a day, but considering we really started January 5 and we were shut down for four weeks in between November and December, I'm really, really happy at how quickly the boys have accepted their roles and accepted the culture change."

The change is significant.

For one, Rodi wants his Greenmen to play a different type of ballgame.

Last year, led by one of the area's top scorers in Ethan Hays, Aurora was involved in one shootout after another. The Greenmen averaged a healthy 63.6 points per game. The problem was they surrendered 70 per game en route to a 7-17 finish. 

"Defense travels great, no matter where we go," Rodi said. "If we're really good defensively, we can compete with just about anybody. We might not win the game, but we'll be in the game."

Like many coaches, Rodi said he'd only play man-to-man if he could. Sometimes, he conceded, he will need to utilize a zone, but his favored defense is a pack line setup. The pack line defense is similar to man-to-man except that off-ball defenders "pack" into the paint and then fly out when their man gets the ball. The idea behind it is to make driving to the basket more difficult with potential help defenders already in place. The challenge is to get out fast enough to contest shots.

So far, so good, as Aurora is surrendering 53 points per game.

"For us, we need to be able to play those types of games," Rodi said. "We need to be able to play in the 40s and 50s to give ourselves a chance. The boys are committed, and that's been as a coach, as a guy who wanted to build it on the defensive end, I've been really happy with how quickly we've gotten that."

Another major emphasis has been in practice, where the scoreboard is ubiquitous.  

"Our practices are very, very physical," Rodi said. "They're very competitive. The scoreboard is out almost every day and every day there's competitive drills because that's the culture that I want to create that everybody's earned the right to play and we're going to put the best team on the floor."

Rodi is serious about everyone earning the right to play. He said that he doesn't plan on starting the same lineup for all 22 games. He wants players to earn their time in practice. There are no exceptions, per Rodi. Even Aurora's leading returning scorer, Gabe Elsawy, was out of the starting lineup for a recent game against Roosevelt.

"He didn't have a great week of practice and he didn't start," Rodi said. "He had a great week of practice this week and he started this week and he's played really well."

Per Rodi, the response has been everything he could have hoped for.

"Not only did Gabe grow as a player, but he's become more of a leader of our program verbally," Rodi said. "Not just going out and being the leading scorer every night, like he's become a leader in our program and I think the other players have seen that no one gets a free ride, not even the second-leading scorer from last year, like Gabe has come in and earned everything that he gets."

Rodi's focus on culture is no accident.

It's something he soaked up during his years working under Greenberg.

"The X's and O's stuff has been fantastic and Erika is amazing with game preparation, but just spending three years with her and seeing how she runs a successful program," Rodi said. "That's been my favorite part of coaching for her is just learning how and seeing firsthand how you run a successful program."