COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The Africentric girls basketball team should be riding high after winning its 17th Central District title in the last 20 years.

The Nubians (20-4), the sixth-ranked team in the state and the No. 2 seed in the district tournament, defeated Fairbanks 48-26 last Thursday. But at 6 p.m. Wednesday, there was a void on the bench when they faced Cincinnati Country Day (21-5) at Springfield in a regional semifinal.

Longtime volunteer assistant David Rhodes died suddenly over the weekend at the age of 59.

Rhodes, far right, with the coaching staff after it’s 48-26 Central District title victory over Fairbanks on Thursday, Feb. 23. (Courtesy/Janicia Anderson)

Africentric coach Janicia Anderson said that while the team has had little time to grieve, Rhodes’ impact will help carry it through the postseason and beyond.

“I am so proud of the strength they all are showing, they are truly strong young women,” Anderson said. “They have so many memories and words he left with them to keep them smiling even through the tough moments. We have been supporting and comforting each other during the difficult moments. The girls continue to compete hard every day, like they know Coach Rhodes would want them to do.”

Anderson, a 2006 Africentric graduate, and assistant coach Tyeasha Moss first met Rhodes at the Police Athletic League at a South Side recreation center when they were in middle school. She said Rhodes helped her throughout her basketball journey, including when she was named coach in 2021.

“We were just young kids in love with the game of basketball and he provided us with an outlet to stay away from distractions, gave us tips on our game,” Anderson said of her time with Rhodes at the PAL program, which ended in 2001, but was revived in 2022.

“He supported me taking over (at Africentric) when the coaching change happened. He gave me constructive criticism when needed and gave me and Tyeasha positive affirmation on how well we had been doing with our teams the last two years.”

Africentric has won the second most state titles – seven – in Ohio High School Athletic Association history, all coming between the 2007-08 and 2019-20 seasons. The Nubians, winners of 15 City League Championships, also appeared in three other state tournaments during that time, with the help of Rhodes.

In a message shared on the Nubians Instagram page, the team said that Rhodes, who was on the bench during the win over Fairbanks, “was so proud of our team and excited about our team headed into regionals. There aren’t enough words to say how much we will miss you Rhodes and we thank you so much for everything you did for us. We ask that you keep the Africentric program in your prayers and hearts. We send love and prayers to Coach Rhodes’ family, friends and all the Lady Nubians and players he impacted. You will forever be in our hearts. We dedicate our season to Coach Rhodes.”

Many of Rhodes’ 15 years with the team were spent with former head coach Will McKinney.

“He’s going to be missed, man,” McKinney said. “He’s going to be somebody that folks, you’ll be talking about a David Rhodes story 20 years from now.”

The Nubians held a moment of silence and wore a patch on their jerseys to honor Rhodes during Wednesday’s game, which the team ended up winning, with Rhodes’ family in the stands.

“You would know my dad is in the room,” said Sariah Rhodes, his daughter. “Either if you could hear him in the stands or if he’s walking around, pacing around, or he is just at every event.”

A GoFundMe page was created to help offset funeral costs for the Rhodes family. Visitation and services will be held March 8 at Marlan J. Gary Funeral Home, Chapel of Peace East on East Livingston Avenue.