During the 1996-97 season, two young coaches got their start at Randolph-Macon under Hal Nunnally, the Yellow Jackets’ longtime former coach.
Nunnally brought on a 23-year-old Mike Rhoades as an assistant, about a year after he was named USA Today Division III national player of the year at Lebanon Valley College. A 22-year-old Nathan Davis, fresh off four years playing for Nunnally, was added as a student assistant as he completed a second major.
The two have been great friends since then, Rhoades said. Davis said in the past 20 years he and Rhoades rarely have gone more than a couple of weeks without speaking, or at least texting.
Amid those 20 years, each was a head coach at Randolph-Macon, then moved into Division I head coaching positions. On Saturday night, Davis, now Bucknell’s coach, will return to Richmond to face Rhoades’ Rams.
“It’ll be great,” said Davis. “I mean, the outcome of the game’s not going to affect our friendship in any way whatsoever.”
Before they worked together, Rhoades and Davis played each other when Lebanon Valley visited Randolph-Macon on Dec. 3, 1994, an 80-77 Lebanon Valley win. And when they started working together, Rhoades said they had a lot of fun.
“We just were in the office all the time,” said Rhoades. “And trying to make our guys better. And two young guys working for Coach Nunnally ... trying to figure it out. We just had a blast.”
After a season as a student assistant at R-MC, Davis moved on to be an assistant at Emory & Henry for a season. And, in 1998, he became an assistant at Navy, where he worked for five seasons. He served as an assistant at Bucknell from 2003 to 2008 under Rhoades’ college coach at Lebanon Valley, Pat Flannery. Davis then worked as an assistant at Colgate during the 2008-09 season.
Rhoades, after three seasons as an assistant at R-MC, became the head coach there in 1999. He had a successful 10-year tenure when he went 197-76 and made a pair of NCAA Division III Sweet 16 appearances.
When Rhoades became an assistant at VCU in 2009, he handed the keys at Randolph-Macon to Davis. The Yellow Jackets reached the Final Four in Davis’ first season.
“I was very fortunate that Mike had left it in such a great state,” said Davis. “Because usually you don’t get jobs like that where things are rolling along. And I was able to take over a team that was good enough to go to the Final Four.
“We had a great group of guys. They were disciplined, they were eager to learn. And I think it all traces back to the culture that the program has, and the values he instilled in them before I got there.”
While Rhoades was an assistant at VCU and Davis was leading Randolph-Macon, they lived less than a mile apart in Ashland. Davis’ oldest child and Rhoades’ middle child went to school together.
Davis became the coach at Bucknell in 2015. And Rhoades, after three years at Rice, became the coach at VCU this year.
But the dawn of their college coaching careers came in the 1996-97 season at R-MC. And with their similar roots — Davis played for Nunnally, Rhoades worked for him; Rhoades played for Flannery, Davis worked for him — the two have had similar influences on their coaching styles.
“There are some things that we both do that we know where they came from,” said Rhoades. “It’s just how it goes. But there’s a lot of similarities that way. We play differently, but we also, we look at the game very similar as well.”