(This story appeared in the March 2nd issue of The Outlook, the student run newspaper of Monmouth University.)
The top sports story on campus this year has been the success of the men’s basketball team. The Hawks wrapped up their season with a 77-68 win against Niagara on Senior Day and secured the No. 1 seed in the upcoming MAAC Tournament.
It is undeniable that the expertise of King Rice, who is in his fifth season as head coach, has been a key to the team’s success.
“I always wanted to be a pro basketball player,” Rice said. “I worked hard to get to the NBA but I fell a little short. My second thing was coaching. I get to do that at a great school with great people and I couldn’t be happier.”
Prior to his coaching days, Rice played collegiate ball under the legendary Dean Smith at The University of North Carolina. Rice was recruited to Chapel Hill by current Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams when he was an assistant under Smith before he took the head coaching position at the University of Kansas in 1988.
As of Friday, Feb. 26, Rice prolonged his collegiate coaching career with a five-year contract that will keep him in West Long Branch through the 2020-21 season.
“King’s success as a head coach at Monmouth is not surprising me at all,” Williams said in an email. “He is extremely intelligent, very competitive and truly loves being a coach. He cares about his players a great deal and pushes them to reach their potential. He sees the big picture and is able to get his players to see it as well. Monmouth Basketball is one of the great stories of the season and he is the driver of that ship. I know the entire University will benefit a great deal.”
Rice learned from one of the best playing for a coach with the legacy of Dean Smith, but the most important thing he learned was how to treat the players off the court.
“You treat your kids the right way and always give them advice that will help their lives,” Rice said. “You definitely try to take care of the players and their families and help their lives, especially off the court. I think that is what I took the most from Coach Smith.”
The connections that Rice built at North Carolina opened up the opportunity to join Jerry Green’s staff at the University of Oregon after receiving his college degree.
“Coach Jerry Green worked for Roy Williams (as an assistant coach at Kansas) and Coach Williams was one of the main guys that recruited me,” Rice said. “I was trying to get into coaching and Coach Green had an opening on his staff at Oregon. Coach Smith told Coach Williams who told Coach Green and that’s how I got a job.”
Rice spent the 1992-93 season in Eugene, OR before moving onto Illinois State. He coached there from 1993-98 as an assistant under Kevin Stallings.
During Rice’s time with the Redbirds, the team appeared in the NIT and NCAA Tournaments twice. Should the Hawks get to a postseason tournament this season, Rice has been to that stage before and knows how to handle such a situation.
“It’s very hard to get done,” Rice said about getting to the postseason. “You have to work extremely hard to keep your kids in the right place for the whole season to accomplish that goal. It would be the most fun experience we have had as a group if we make it. When you do make it, the coaches have to relax because once you get to postseason play, sometimes the coaches put too much pressure on their kids to perform, and you can’t do that.”
After two years as an assistant coach at Providence and a three year stint as head coach of the Bahamian National Team, Rice went onto coach with Stallings again at Vanderbilt from 2006-11.
He would go to four more NCAA Tournaments before becoming the head coach of the Hawks. Stallings has nothing but praise for Rice and the success he has had during his tenure in West Long Branch.
“I am extremely proud of King and his accomplishments at Monmouth,” Stallings said via email. “He was always a very positive, energetic influence on our players here, and it looks as if that has carried over to his time there. We’re excited to see his success on the floor, and more importantly, his impact on those players that are lucky enough to play for him. We couldn’t be [happier] for him, his family, and the Monmouth community.”
Rice has learned a lot in his five years at Monmouth and has grown with the program to get to where they are today. He has a lot of people to thank for the opportunity to be a head coach at the D1 level and he hopes he has done his part.
“I’ve grown as a man, a father and a coach,” Rice said. “I’m better with the kids. I’m demanding but I’m more open to feedback. I’ve probably come full circle since I have become a head coach for the better. Dr. [Marilyn] McNeil and President [Paul] Gaffney gave me a job. They told me what the circumstances were and they also told me what they would like to see while I was here. Now that we’ve had some success, I feel like I’ve done what I was supposed to do. I have the best gym, resources, boss and school in our league. Now that we’re having this success, we want it to continue. I’m just a hard working guy who appreciates the opportunity that I was given and I hope I have given back.”
He certainly has. And he is also excited about remaining in West Long Branch for the next five seasons.
“I’ve been saying that I feel like the luckiest guy. I’m thankful to Monmouth University, to President Paul Brown and especially to Dr. Marilyn McNeil because since I have been the coach, she has totally embraced my family, made me feel very comfortable as the head coach of Monmouth basketball, and just has put me and my family in a great spot for the future.”