AZUSA, Calif. – Fourteen NAIA Tournament appearances. Thirteen Golden State Athletic Conference championships. A record 454 victories. One NAIA Coach of the Year.
The calling card is impressive, and the answer is honoring.
Bill Odell, the Azusa Pacific men’s basketball coach from 1991 to 2007, has been selected for induction into the NAIA Hall of Fame in recognition of his extraordinary achievements as a coach during his highly successful tenure with the Cougars. Odell is one of 20 people chosen for the 2010-11 NAIA Hall of Fame Class and will be inducted March 22, 2011, in Kansas City, Mo., in a ceremony that precedes the NAIA men’s basketball national championship game.
“I’m humbled and deeply grateful for this recognition from the NAIA,” said Odell. “Long ago God gave me a passion to teach the game of basketball, and He offered me terrific athletes to coach. He blessed me with hard-working assistant coaches and unmatched support from my family and friends. This honor is more about the people God put in my life than it is about anything I accomplished.”
Odell came to Azusa Pacific in the summer of 1991 on the heels of 23 seasons at the high school level in Southern California, the last 20 at Millikan High in Long Beach where he led the Rams to 4 CIF championship games, winning the title in 1989. He was given the task of re-building Azusa Pacific basketball into a consistent local power, and as he had done in so many other tasks in his life, he exceeded all expectations but his own.
In seemingly the blink of an eye, Odell turned Azusa Pacific into a national power, taking the once down-trodden program that had won just 97 games in the 8 previous seasons to the top of the NAIA Coaches’ Poll in February of 1993, in less than 2 seasons at the helm. A few weeks later, he put the finishing touches on the first 30-win season in program history. And while his achievement for that season was rare for the program, the consistency of success he maintained in the coming years was mind-boggling.
In 16 seasons at Azusa Pacific, Odell won a staggering 80-percent of his games, fashioning a 454-112 (.802) record. He produced 15 consecutive 20-win campaigns, which included 5 that reached the 30-win plateau. He averaged 28 victories a season against just 7 losses. Fourteen of his 16 teams qualified for the NAIA Tournament, including the last 12 in a row. Four of his teams – the 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2005 squads – reached the NAIA Fab Four with the 2005 set of Cougars becoming the first-ever in program history to play for the NAIA national championship. For that effort Odell was named the NAIA Coach of the Year. Eight of his 14 NAIA Tournament teams advanced to at least the quarterfinals, including his final 3.
Locally, his coaching numbers were even better. He led Azusa Pacific to the Golden State Athletic Conference championship 13 times, including an unprecedented 9 straight from 1993 to 2001. In 1993 he guided the Cougars to the first and still only undefeated season in GSAC history and afterwards he enjoyed 4 other 1-loss conference slates, including the 2003 season when his Cougars went 19-1 and set the record for the most conference wins in a season. His 2001 and 2002 teams strung together a 20-game GSAC winning streak, then the longest in conference history. In what many consider to be the strongest basketball conference in the NAIA, Odell avoided the landmines and pitfalls to win 217 of 262 GSAC games for an impressive .828 winning clip.
The names of the players and assistant coaches changed throughout the years, but the winning never slowed. The lone constant thread weaved through all those winning years was Odell. There was no mistaking the fact that he could coach. In fact, no coach in all of college basketball posted more victories than Odell’s 454 between 1991 and 2007.
“Some produce winning seasons, others guide and mentor winning players. Several create winning athletic programs; and a select few build legacies. Bill Odell stands with those elite few,” said Azusa Pacific President Jon R. Wallace. “Legacies bolster a university. They generate the interest of talented players. They further the image and reputation of an institution. But often, we fail to recognize that legacies emerge from the blood, sweat and tears of individuals, people like Coach Odell.”
Odell coached 10 first-, second-, or third-team NAIA All-Americans, including 2-time first-team honoree T.J. Walker (1998 and 1999). He had 27 All-GSAC players, including a pair of 3-time honorees, Scott Day (1992-94) and Caleb Gervin (2001-03). He also mentored 6 GSAC Players of the Year, including current Harlem Globetrotter lead man Kevin Daley (2000). He taught 6 NAIA Scholar-Athletes, including his protégé and current Cougar head coach Justin Leslie.
Odell was a 6-time GSAC Coach of the Year, including in 2001 when he led the Cougars to a 35-3 record, the best mark in program history. Yet he received no accords for what some argue was his most impressive coaching task in 1996-97 when he took a Cougar team that featured just 1 returnee and 15 newcomers who nonetheless successfully defended the program’s GSAC crown and earned a berth into the NAIA Tournament.
“His basketball accomplishments are overwhelming, but what is most striking is the way he achieved his success,” said Leslie, who took over the reins of the Cougar program upon Odell’s retirement from coaching in 2007. “Long before the NAIA’s Champions of Character initiative, Bill was racking up the championships by conducting himself in a manner that reflected positively on Azusa Pacific, the NAIA, and his faith.”
Odell becomes the 12th person of Azusa Pacific selected for induction into the NAIA Hall of Fame, joining other Cougar icons such as NFL Pro Bowler Christian Okoye (1992) and Olympic Gold Medal Decathlete Bryan Clay (2009). Ironically, Odell’s selection bookends the first Cougar inducted into the Hall, former Azusa Pacific men’s basketball coach Cliff Hamlow (1981 honoree), who as the university’s athletic director in 1991, hired Odell.
“I was looking for a basketball coach who could take Azusa Pacific to the next level as the University was in a growth mode,” said Hamlow. “In that search, Bill, a very successful high school coach, came to the top of a large pool of applicants. He had established that his program would be disciplined, built on good fundamentals, and embrace the Christ-centered approach to life that we were looking for in our coaches at Azusa Pacific. The rest is history.”
Odell will be part of very unique induction class of basketball honorees during the March ceremony. Along with Odell, the NAIA will be enshrining on that night 3 other NAIA basketball legends, NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen (Central Arkansas), 17-year NBA guard Terry Porter (Wisconsin-Stevens Point) and former Los Angeles Laker first-round draft pick and college basketball’s all-time leading scorer Travis Grant (Kentucky State).