Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Mike Rice Hopeful for Return to College Ranks After Leading The Patrick School to New Jersey State Title
TRENTON, N.J. — Mike Rice doesn’t like to talk about redemption.
He’s not in the coaching business for any kind of recovery or reclamation or return.
He’s in it because he’s a basketball lifer, a guy who just loves teaching kids and coaching the game of basketball — as I wrote in this New York Times story in December.
With all that said, Rice is a shrewd guy, too. He knows that leading The Patrick School to the New Jersey Tournament of Champions title on Monday night — and behaving well all season long en route to the title — can probably help him back into college basketball.
“I hope it sends a positive [message], but that’s not my purpose,” Rice said after co-coaching the Celtics to a 69-55 victory over Don Bosco Prep in the New Jersey Tournament of Champions final on Monday night at Sun National Bank Center. “My purpose is developing and being a part of these individuals’ lives, these student-athletes’ lives, and doing it in a positive way. And that’s what my motivation is.”
Rice, of course, was fired by Rutgers in 2013 for verbally and physically abusing his players, a situation that Melissa McCarthy ended up mocking on “Saturday Night Live” long before she took aim at Sean Spicer.
This spring, though, Rice has been linked to openings at Quinnipiac and Duquesne, although others are now the favorites for those jobs. Quinnipiac is focusing on Villanova’s Baker Dunleavy , Iona’s Jared Grasso, Vermont’s John Becker and Xavier’s Travis Steele, while Monmouth’s King Rice is strongly in the mix for Duquesne.
It’s also possible that if an assistant coaching position were to open up, Rice would be in the mix there, too.
“Sometimes there’s fake news, I’ve heard that every once in a while,” Rice cracked of the rumors linking him to college jobs.
“Certainly I think if Mike had the ability to go back in college at the right spot and the right situation, I think he’d love to,” Rob Kennedy, who gave Rice his first job at The Hoop Group after Rutgers, told me in December. “As much to be able show people that he isn’t the guy that a lot of them think. But I will say this about Mike. He doesn’t need to be a college basketball coach for him to be happy and for him to be able to give back to everybody in basketball. And he knows that.
“If he’s the coach St. Pat’s for the next 10 years and working at The Hoop Group and doing that. Now if he had to be selling copiers or selling insurance or working on Wall Street, that would be different. Mike is a hoop junkie and so right now he’s around it. He’s coaching Team Rio, he’s got a great AAU team, he’s got one of the best high school programs in the country. It gives him a high level of stuff but he’s also working out 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds and teaching them how to get going with the game of basketball all the way on up. The trappings of college basketball don’t mean as much to Mike Rice as they do to a lot of other guys.”
Legendary St. Anthony’s coach Bob Hurley, who vouched for Rice to get the Rutgers job, thinks it may be tough for him to get back into college coaching and suggested the NBA as a possibility.
“I think that time heals all wounds,” Hurley said. “But I also know how conservative the coaching community is. When I mean the community, it’s people that are hiring coaches. And I don’t know what their view of Mike will be. But those of us who know him, I’ve known him for a long time, I felt very bad for the way that went [at Rutgers]. But I’ve seen an intense guy. I’ve never seen the things that was depicted of him.
“So I think that he absolutely should get another chance. I don’t know what the entry level [is]. I think it’s probably along the lines of the NBA, maybe coaching in the D-League where he’s working with older guys because something may not open in college.”
But Rice’s passion is teaching and coaching kids. And the kids at The Patrick School all praised him for teaching them what it will take to succeed in college.
“He’s a great coach,” Minnesota-bound shooting guard Jamir Harris said. “His attention to detail and stuff like that is something that helps us in the long run. The intensity in practice makes us want to go that much harder. I love having him around, and I know we all do.”
Rice still works as the team tournament director at The Hoop Group, coaches the Rio National AAU program that features Class of 2019 stars Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine and, of course, co-coaches The Patrick School with Chris Chavannes, a position for which he receives no pay but great reward.
“Driving up to Hillside, The Patrick School, every day with a smile on my face, knowing I get to work with an incredible bunch of individuals and coaches, that’s all I need,” he said.
“My wife kinds of shakes her had at me, that it’s a non-paying job and you spend a lot of time. But it doesn’t matter. It’s a passion and I’m really thankful for the opportunity Chris has given me.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.