Bryant Stith brings intellect, integrity, presence to ODU basketball

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Bryant Stith had just led Virginia to a victory at Maryland. But he had little interest in discussing his performance, the game or the team's national ranking.

This was Jan. 16, 1991, and less than an hour before tipoff, President Bush had ordered Desert Storm, a United States-led coalition response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Among the troops in Saudi Arabia preparing for possible combat was Stith's best friend from back home in Brunswick County.

"We grew up together," Stith said that night, his concern palpable. "Now he's over there in the desert."

Just two days earlier, Stith had mailed his friend a letter and enclosed a Virginia team poster.

"He has a new-born baby he hasn't even seen yet," Stith said. "That's sad."

And that's my enduring memory of Stith, Virginia's career scoring leader and Old Dominion's newest assistant coach.

I saw most of his 131 games, 2,516 points and 859 rebounds. I saw him score the Cavaliers' final 19 points in a 68-67 victory at Notre Dame. I saw him make a 16-foot, turn-around jumper from the right baseline to beat Wake Forest at the buzzer.

But since his days at Brunswick High, where he was valedictorian, and with Boo Williams' Hampton Roads summer program, I've been more impressed with Stith's character than his talent.

"Great family, very committed guy," Williams said. "If he says he's going to do something, he does it."

Not to suggest integrity, intellect and humility are all Stith will need as he transitions from the high school to college coaching ranks. But combine that foundation with old-fashioned, family-honed hard work — Stith's mom was a teacher, his dad a long-distance trucker and later a hospital engineer — and ODU has all the makings of an effective recruiter and teacher.

And make no mistake, after seven years as Brunswick's head coach and athletic director, Stith is accustomed to long hours.

"I think the Lord was preparing me for what was ahead," Stith said last week as he packed up his office at Brunswick. "Being able to wear so many different hats down here broke that mold of being spoiled, coming out of the NBA, where you have everything done for you.

"For the last seven years, I have busted my bump down here in Lawrenceville, Virginia, and I think any AD and head coach at the high school level can attest to what I'm talking about."

The 13th pick of the 1992 draft, Stith played 10 NBA seasons, eight with the Denver Nuggets. He married a Brunswick girl — Barbara attended ODU — and when his playing career ended, the couple returned to their roots to raise their four children: Brandan, B.J., Bria and Brooke.

"When I was in the NBA, I saw so many (players and former players) losing their kids to the streets because they were chasing that dollar," Stith said. "It's tough, when you have a great opportunity before you: Do you go into television or into the front office? Do you pursue a coaching career and not being there to be able to support your kids and guide and direct them?

"This was the formative years of their lives, and my wife and I decided that's what's most important. That's the reason we returned home to Brunswick County."

Stith coached Brunswick to seven consecutive state Division 3 championship games, losing the first four, winning the next three. His best players were his sons.

Brandan is signed to play at East Carolina next season; B.J. has committed to Virginia and will conclude his high school career next season at Oak Hill Academy, a national-caliber program in southwestern Virginia.

So the timing was perfect for Stith to explore college coaching, and one of the first people he called was then-American coach Jeff Jones. Stith played for Jones at Virginia — Jones was an assistant to Terry Holland during Stith's freshman and sophomore seasons and then succeeded Holland as head coach.

Little could Jones and Stith have realized.

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