CANTON — It wasn’t that long ago that Hunter Rhodes was a standout player for the Canton boys basketball team.

Now the 23-year-old is pacing the sidelines in a coat and tie instead of splashing treys on the floor of Alice Ingersoll Gym for the Little Giants.

Rhodes, a 2014 Canton graduate, took over as head coach last summer when previous coach Phil Pullen left after a 6-21 season.

"I wouldn’t say it was a plan, but it was something I knew I wanted to do," Rhodes said. "This just happened to work out. I was surprised, but I couldn’t pass it up. I’m extremely happy to be here."

There were several reasons that Rhodes wanted to return to his home town.

"I loved growing up here," he said. "I know a lot of people, and people are always nice to me. But the main reason is that my girlfriend — now fiancé — and my daughter are here. So that’s why I wanted to come back."

Rhodes graduated from Canton with 1,160 career points. He then helped lead Kirkwood Community College to the 2016 NJCAA Division II national title.

Rhodes spent his last two collegiate seasons as a guard at Northern Iowa, where he finished his degree in Movement and Exercise Science, with a sports psychology emphasis, and a coaching minor.

He currently is a permanent substitute teacher at the Canton middle school, and plans on returning to school to complete his degree in physical education in the next couple of years.

Rhodes did a summer internship with the Little Giants’ football team, where he got to know some of the players on his basketball team.

"But they knew me as ‘Hunter,’ not ‘Coach,’ because I’m only a few years older than they are," he said. "That’s one thing we had to change."

He practices with the team occasionally, demonstrating how he wants things done. But just being a spectataor has been frustrating for Rhodes.

"I wish they would see it from my mind," he said. "But theyr’e slowly getting better."

Rhodes also hopes to instill a winning mentality that he learned from his collegiate playing days.

The Little Giants are off to a 3-10 start this season after dropping a 67-30 decision at home to Peoria High on Tuesday night. That ended a modest two-game winning streak.

"I know we haven’t started out great, but the energy and the focus that we’ve had since we’ve been winning has gone up," Rhodes said. "I don’t have to get on the kids about playing hard or showing effort. It’s starting to get into their minds a little bit what it’s like to be a winner."

But Rhodes isn’t worried about his team’s wins and losses.

"How much they improve is what I’m really focused on," he said. "As long as they keep playing hard and showing that they’re giving effort and energy, and helping their teammates, then I don’t have a problem with their record."

Rhodes also wants to give the program some stability. He is the third head coach in as many seasons at the school.

"Coming into the season, I was told by numerous people that we wouldn’t win too many games," he said. "But it’s not all on the players. It’s on the environment."

And Rhodes hopes this season is the first of many for him at his alma mater.

"As long as they want me here, I’ll be here," he said. "My plan is to be here for a while. I think it’s fair to the kids and the community. They haven’t had a stable environment in the past two years. I’m excited to work with all of them."

Johnny Campos can be reached at 686-3214 or at jcampos@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnnyCampos59.