Eugene Steven “Gene” Rhodes, 90, passed away March 10 at Norton Hospital in Louisville.
Born in St. Louis, MO to Leslie G. and Lorena Vessels Rhodes on September 2, 1927, he is preceded in death by his parents, his brother Mitchell E. Rhodes and his sister, Frances Florine Smart. He is survived by daughter, Kathleen “Koppy” Rhodes, his son Stephen Rhodes and his daughter-in-law, Amy; his grandchildren, Savannah, Gracie, Christian and Gavin Rhodes; a brother, Joseph L. Rhodes; sisters Cecelia Madge Rothzeid and Grace Jean Sbano and eleven nieces and nephews.
Gene Rhodes was one of the most accomplished athletic figures - both as a player and coach - in the history of basketball in Kentucky.
Growing up in the Parkland neighborhood of Louisville’s West End, he was the little brother who tagged along with his older siblings for ball games in Shawnee Park. But later, beginning at Louisville Male High School, his athletic fame took shape. Alongside his fellow teammate and lifelong friend, Ralph Beard, Gene led Male to the state high school basketball championship in 1945 and was named to the Courier-Journal All-State teams in both 1945 and 1946. After a two-year stint in the Army, he enrolled at Western Kentucky University and starred for E.A, Diddle’s Hilltoppers which earned NIT Tournament appearances in 1949,’50 and ’52. An outstanding scorer and play maker, Gene still stands third in assists for a season in the WKU record books. Upon leaving Western, he was the 44th overall pick in the 1952 NBA draft and played one season with the Indianapolis Olympians.
After college, Gene began a long and successful coaching career. From 1954 to 1961, he was head coach at Louisville’s St. Xavier High School where, in 1958, he led his team to the Kentucky State Boys Championship. From 1954-61, his St. X teams attained a combined record of (149-54). In 1962, Rhodes moved back to his high school alma mater as head coach at Louisville Male. In two seasons, his teams went 42-14. In his final season at Male, he was named Kentucky’s high school basketball “Coach of the Year.” For his high school coaching career, his teams were 191-68, a .737 percentage.
Gene left the high school coaching ranks in 1964 to return to his college alma mater as assistant coach to his friend and former teammate John Oldham, the successor to Ed Diddle at Western. From 1964-1968, he was a key component in the coaching and recruiting of such Hilltopper legends as Clem Haskins, Dwight and Greg Smith, Jim McDaniels, Clarence Glover and many others. During that four-year period, the Toppers posted a record of 84-22 and participated in two NCAA Tournaments (1966 & ‘67) and one NIT Tournament (1965).
In 1968, Gene was named head coach of the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels. For five years, he coached the Colonels and was instrumental in the development of the franchise that would become one of the most successful and popular in the ABA. In 1973, he became the Colonels’ General Manager.
After basketball, Gene stayed in Louisville and began a long, successful career in sales.
Gene Rhodes is a member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, the Western Kentucky University Hall of Fame, the Kentucky High School Athletic Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches’ High School Basketball Hall of Fame, the Kentucky All Star Hall of Fame and the Male High School Hall of Fame.
Dad and Grandpa Gene to his family, “Coach” to his players and Gene to his many, many friends throughout the state, he was always ready with a helping hand and always generous with his time. We will miss him.
Visitation will be on Thursday, March 22, from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Newcomer Cremations, Funerals and Receptions, East Chapel (235 Juneau Drive). A mass of celebration will be held Friday, March 23, at 9:00 a.m. at St. Louis Bertrand Catholic Church,1104 South Sixth Street.
The family suggests expressions of sympathy take the form of donations to Gene’s daughter’s favorite charity, The Arrow Fund (www.thearrowfund.org ).
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