Odell Cleveland isn’t sure where he would be today without the guidance of his former high school and college basketball coach.
What: Jerry Waters and Odell Cleveland’s “Jerry O. Waters: Born to be a Coach”When: Today, 1 p.m.Where: Hippodrome located on Concord Street in CharlestonAdmission: Free
Cleveland, who grew up in West Ashley and played basketball for Middleton High School in the 1970s, says his life would have been much different if not for Jerry Waters.
Cleveland played for Waters at Middleton, leading the Razorbacks to the Class AAAA state title in 1977. Five years later, the player and coach were reunited at USC-Spartanburg, where together they won the NAIA national championship in 1982.
Cleveland, who has a master’s degree from divinity school and is co-founder of a non-profit organization in Greensboro, credits Waters with giving him the drive and opportunity to finish college.
Their relationship, which has spanned more than three decades, is what inspired them to collaborate on a book — “Jerry O. Waters: Born to be a Coach.”
Waters and Cleveland will be in Charleston today for a book signing at the Hippodrome beginning at 1 p.m. There will also be a 30-minute viewing of a DVD based on the book.
“I’ve had a lot of people help me throughout my life,” Cleveland said. “My mother and grandfather were very influential, but coach Waters had a big role as well.
“Coach Waters wasn’t a savior or anything like that, but what he did give me was a work ethic and mental toughness that have served me not only on the basketball court, but in the business world.”
Cleveland has authored two previous books — “Pracademics and Community Change: A True Story of Nonprofit Development and Social Entrepreneurship During Welfare Reform” and “Come Walk With Me: A True Story of a Young Boy’s Incredible Journey from Tragedy to Triumph.”
It was during the writing of “Come Walk with Me” that Cleveland reconnected with Waters and realized what an impact his coach had on his life. As the two were talking about Cleveland’s basketball career at Middleton and USC-Spartanburg, the subject of Water’s biography began to take shape.
“Writing a book was one of my bucket list items,” said Waters, 66, who is retired and lives in Inman. “Odell had already written two books, knew how the process worked, and agreed to help write it. It’s very humbling to have one of your former players step up and do something like this.”
Cleveland, 52, is just trying to give something back to the man who gave him so much.
“I’m at the point in my life when I want to start giving back to people who have helped me get where I am today,” Cleveland said. “This was something he couldn’t do by himself, I was happy to help him.”
Their relationship hasn’t always been so genteel. Waters was a notorious taskmaster in the mold of former Indiana coach Bobby Knight, demanding the most from his players at all times. Cleveland didn’t always embrace Waters’ intense coaching style.
“We bumped heads a few times,” Waters said with a chuckle. “I might have kicked Odell out of practice a few times. But we had one thing in common, we hated to lose and did whatever it took to win. Odell was as tough mentally and physically as any player I coached.”
It was Waters who helped get Cleveland into Lake City Community College and later recruited him to USC-Spartanburg. And it was Waters’ constant prodding that pushed Cleveland to perform in the classroom.
“Like a lot of kids I thought I was going to play in the NBA,” Cleveland said. “When I got to college I realized that playing in the NBA wasn’t an option. But basketball was kind of a carrot for me in high school and college because in order to play I had to get good enough grades to stay eligible.”
Waters won four state championships as a high school coach, including three — 1972, ’74 and ’77 — at Middleton. He compiled a 364-133 record in 17 years as head coach at USC-Spartanburg, now the University of South Carolina-Upstate. He led the Rifles to the NAIA national title in 1982 and advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament three times. His teams were 193-30 at USC-Spartanburg’s Hodge Center, including a 50-game winning streak from Feb. 1989 to Feb. 1993.
Waters’ battles with the College of Charleston and Cougars’ coach John Kresse were legendary.
“Jerry was one of the fiercest competitors as a coach that I ever went against in 38 years of coaching,” Kresse said. “He was a detail-oriented coach and his teams always executed very well. As an assistant coach, I coached against John Wooden, Dean Smith and Bobby Knight and I would put Jerry up there with any of those coaches.”
When Cleveland graduated from USC-Spartanburg, he went on to get a masters’ degree in Divinity from the Hood Theological Seminary in 1997.
Two years later he co-founded Welfare Reform Liaison Project, which offers job training to economically disadvantaged people to help them get off of government assistance.
“I believe in giving a hand up, not a hand out,” Cleveland said. “It’s something that coach Waters was a firm believer in.”
Jerry Waters lives in Inman. Cleveland resides in Greensboro.