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Profile of a Possible Savior: King Rice

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Can King David slay the blueblood giants?

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Several intrepid BTP message board posters have put forth the argument that to be like the bluebloods, you need a blueblood at the helm. Roy Williams' coaching tree is surprisingly thin, and Coach K's protégés have had uneven success. But what about the Great Schnozz, Dean Smith? Dean's coaching tree includes the likes of Ol' Roy, Larry Brown, and George Karl, among many others. There's a lot of gross in that last sentence, but you can't argue that they've won a lot of basketball games.

Smith's former floor general, King David Rice, is taking an anything but storied Monmouth program to new heights, and, unlike the names above, Rice is not 106 years old. The former Tar Heel point guard is an up and comer, and it's just a matter of time before he's hired for a higher profile position.

Important Questions, In Rough Order Of Importance:

1. Has he coached teams that have won a national title, made multiple deep NCAA tournament runs, and/or consistently been highly ranked?

Well, no. Rice is in his sixth season at Monmouth, which is coming off a program record 28-win season but has not yet reached the NCAAs or been ranked under his leadership. The program has NEVER been ranked, in fact, but currently sits in vaunted "others receiving votes" territory in the AP poll. The Hawks are 23-5 and have a four-game lead in the MAAC standings this year but will probably need to avoid another slip up in the conference tournament to ensure a bid. That 51st ranking in RPI is impressive for a team from a lower tier conference, but it probably won't make for an at-large bid.

Of course as a player Rice went to the NCAA tournament in each of his seasons running Smith's offense, including a Final Four trip in his senior season, 1991, and never failed to make the Sweet 16.

2. Has he built a program from the ground up?

Absolutely, though it took some time. Rice took over a program that had posted a losing record for five consecutive seasons. It took him until his fourth season to post a winning record, but in the past two years the team is 51-13.

3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?

In Monmouth's 34-year history, only once did it lose fewer than 10 games in a season before Rice took over. The Hawks should do so for a second consecutive season this year. Monmouth has made the Dance four times but never won a game save for one of those play-in deals against Hampton; if Rice can get in this year and pull off an upset, they'll probably erect a statue in picturesque West Long Branch, NJ. And winning a tourney game isn't such a stretch when you consider that Rice knocked off a ranked Notre Dame squad last year (not to mention UCLA, USC-West, Georgetown, and Rutgers). Princeton is the team's lone RPI top 100 win this season, but they did take Frank Martin's USC-East squad to overtime. Monmouth beating genuinely solid basketball programs simply did not happen pre-Rice.

4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?

Monmouth is Rice's lone head-coaching gig thus far unless you count a three-year stint as head man of the Bahamian National Team. (I didn't make that up.)

5. Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?

Rice had a brief stint as an assistant at Oregon and Providence but most of his assisting has come under the tutelage of Kevin Stallings at both Illinois State and Vanderbilt. Vandy made the dance in four of his six seasons as Stallings' assistant, but Stallings is perhaps the lone coach in the ACC I'd take Mark Gottfried over, so I'm not sure this is a big positive.

6. Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?

The Hawks are by far the class of the MAAC, ranking 86th (which is 22 spots ahead of NC State) in KenPom Land. Iona is second in the league at 115th. They were a top 100 team last year as well, finishing 95th. They'll win the MAAC regular season title for a second straight season this year.

7. Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?

The MAAC is such a far cry from the ACC that it's hard to say what kind of team he might put on the floor at NC State, but the metrics aren't overly kind in this regard from a national standpoint. The Hawks were a pretty solid (considering the adjustment for competition) 68th in this regard overall last year, which was first in the MAAC by a good margin. They've slipped to 98th this year, but that's still second only to St. Peter's in their league. Could we then project that a Rice-coached Pack would be a top two defense in the ACC? Ha. Nope. But his dominating results against like competition at least suggest that he has a philosophy that goes beyond "They got to guard us too, pal."

Monmouth used a matchup zone defense pre-Rice, who prefers an attacking man-to-man. His current squad ranks 60th in the NCAA in block percentage and 100th in steal rate, so they create a good bit more havoc than NC State which ranks 102nd and 301st in those measures. Monmouth is impressive in field goal defense, where they hold opponents to a 47.1 eFG%, good for 47th in the country, but that's coming against some truly anemic offenses. The Hawks are tied for 114th in total rebounding percentage (51.1), so Rice hasn't exactly been able to replicate UNC's kill everyone on the boards philosophy. There's nowhere to go but up here for NC State, but nothing in Rice's brief tenure so far confidently suggests that he would bring a top 25 defense to Raleigh.

8. So how about offense?

The offense mirrors the defense for Monmouth this year; the Hawks are 99th in KenPom. Hey howabout that for consistency: 99th in offense and 98th in defense. Breaking in to the top 100 is a first for Rice, as his team was just 131st in their breakout, 28-win season a year ago.

Though his defenses have been a little ahead of his offenses—and that is somewhat encouraging as an undermanned team in the ACC, which State will likely be after a coaching transition, will likely need to hang its hat on defense to compete until the roster improves—Rice's offenses probably hold the most long-term promise. He wants to run like his Heels did and do, and encourages his players to get a shot up within the first five seconds of the shot clock if a good shot is available. Stallings (kind of the balding, non-philandering version of Gott as a one-dimensional, offense-first coach) typically has efficient, fast-paced offenses, and Rice of course learned from both Stallings and Smith's high-octane teams. With the right players, a Rice-coached Pack could put on a show.

9. Any indication that he can recruit McDonald's All-American-type players?

Rice was a Burger Boy himself and, as a native New Yorker and New Jersey coach, has ties to the NYC pipeline that's been very good to NC State in the past, though, interestingly, the team's most highly-touted recruits all hail from Texas. He's only pulled in one guy, Je'Lon Hornbeak, who garnered four stars from any recruiting site (Rivals), and he was a transfer from Oklahoma. Pierre Sarr and Micah Seaborn were consensus three-star recruits. All three are from the Lone Star State.

We're talking Monmouth here. It's impressive if he has anyone that even garnered a ranking. With that UNC pedigree and relative youthfulness—Rice is just 48—I think he would be a successful recruiter. Really, recruiting hasn't been NC State's problem. It's what the coaches have done (or failed to do) with said recruits that's at issue.

10. Does he have any connection to NC State, North Carolina, or the ACC?

He played for UNC.

11. Any other random red flags or positives?

Rice was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend while at UNC and readily admits that his preference for partying over basketball as a Tar Heel cost him any chance for a professional career as a player. He very well could've lost his coaching career when he was arrested for DUI while serving as Stallings' assistant at SIU. But, to his credit, Rice got his shit together. He entered a rehab facility after the DUI and is now 17 years sober. (As a raging alcoholic myself, that is pretty impressive. Good on ya, King.)

Rice regularly welcomes "at-risk" youth to Monmouth and volunteers for speaking engagements to share his personal experience of coming from nothing—his father never learned to read and his large family was supported solely from his mom's income as a secretary—and rising out of that situation only to nearly throw it away due to substance abuse. Rice, who I must say I loathed as much as any Tar Heel ever when he was in the powder blue, genuinely seems to have matured into a decent human who wants to make a difference in the lives of his players and in his community. Rice and former teammate Rick Fox even started a foundation to mentor kids and provide them with scholarships (though it appears said non-profit is now out of existence).

Of course we would be remiss not to mention that, as a UNC player, Rice was (allegedly) part of a system of academic fraud designed to keep athletes eligible to play sports ball. I suppose his time predates the scope of the allegations, but do we really for one second think that he and his teammates weren't "schooling" on an uneven playing, uh, chalkboard? And do we care if we win and don't get caught (or punished too harshly)?

Summary:

Would he be better than Gottfried?

This questions makes it hard, so hard, not to be cruel. Fuckin' A, man. Day-old leftover lo mein would be better than Gott at this point. But if we harken back to feel-good Gott of the original Sweet 16 run, then who knows. Rice is a lottery ticket and most of those don't scratch the way you want them too, but a middle school coach in Russia (or Bahamian National Team coach) is a step up from Gott at this moment in time. I'd wager that he might not make the Dance four times in six years but that the program would be on an upward swing in year six if he was given the time and patience from the fan base and administration to build something.

OK, so what is his ceiling?

I'm given pause by how long it took him to turn Monmouth around. Can WPN wait until year five to be really good? Can WPN wait until year four simply not to suck? But if Rice could speed that mess up a little this time, he might find himself being uniquely positioned as the hot thing in the ACC as oldass rivals like Ol' Roy, K, Yankee Nose Picker, and Slick Rick Pitino die of heart attacks on the sidelines. If things break right, forget the ceiling; the sky's the limit. (But you could say the same about just about everyone not named Weber thus far profiled in the POAPS).

Would he take the job if offered?

From my 12-second effort on Google, it would appear that Rice is making a base salary in the six-figure range. We're talking way closer to five figures than seven. My guess is that he doesn't feel confident UNC is going to call on him when Roy mercifully dies, and that it would be impossible to turn down increasing your salary by, oh, about 10 times its current rate. I'd go to Afghanistan for a couple million a year, especially if it means getting the hell out of Jersey. The ACC is > Afghanistan. Seems like a no-brainer for a guy that I think wouldn't be scared away by the media perception of NC State as a terrible career move.

How would I feel if he were hired?

Conflicted. I could most likely swallow enough June-Aid to convince myself that the "if you want to be a blueblood, you need a blueblood" argument is legit, despite the evidence that stands to the contrary. (Matt Doherty, anyone?) There's also the pesky fact that Rice played at UNC for Chrissakes. But you cannot deny that the man has done more at Monmouth than anyone else, including beating teams Gottfried couldn't beat these days, and Rice has done so without the advantage of actual ACC talent. I have an open mind.

How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?

I don't think there would be rioting in the streets, but if it's not Archie Miller, then it probably better be someone who has more of a track record of success, like Mick Cronin. Of course winning cures all, but I don't know that NC State is set up to compete in the immediate aftermath of the Gottfried capsizing due to potential roster turmoil and a class of 2017 that holds a grand total of one pledge. Send a UNC alum to a gun fight with a knife? Hmm.

And of course there's always that whole Monmouth bench thing.