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Rice Still Fighting to Reach NBA

Darius Rice was considered a sure-fire NBA player back in 2000 as a senior at Lanier (Miss.) High School as he poured in a team-high 24 points for the East Squad in the McDonald’s All-America game.

Darius Rice at media day with the Texas Legends (Photo courtesy: Layne Murdoch Jr. / NBAE)

But the 6-foot-10 long-range shooter passed on entering the NBA Draft straight out of high school like fellow McDonald’s All-Americans Darius Miles and DeShawn Stevenson.

Instead, Rice honored his letter of intent and attended the University of Miami despite Leonard Hamilton departing for the NBA’s Washington Wizards.

Rice, the nephew of NFL great Jerry Rice who picked Miami over Kentucky, made an immediate impact as a freshman for the Hurricanes leading the team in scoring, something he did all four years at Miami.

Despite his success in college, Rice’s draft stock fell during his time in Coral Gables. He went undrafted in 2004 and was one of the last cuts during preseason camp with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Rice also had summer league or preseason stints with the Heat, Blazers, Mavericks, Nets and Spurs since his days at UM, but is still looking for his first taste of playing in a regular season game.

“It’s been a struggle for me,” Rice said. “Coming highly recruited out of high school and pretty much being the man to being undrafted, it was really tough on me because I feel I did some things a lot better than some players in the NBA and some players in the NBA at my position. But I never gave up, I kept fighting. I got it from my uncle (Jerry Rice), work hard and keep fighting and I never stop. Every year I go somewhere and I play, I get MVP, I’ve won championships around the world, I won a D-League championship, and I’m a proven winner. I just have that drive and hunger to make it with a chip on my shoulder because I feel I should be there. As long as I keep that drive and that hunger, I’m going to keep fighting.”

Rice has toured the globe in the past nine years playing in Italy, China, Uruguay, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, United Arab Emirates, Hungary, and Bahrain.

“They all have their perks,” he said. “I like Puerto Rico because it is kind of like playing in the States. I like playing in the Philippines because the fan base is awesome; there are 20,000 fans every night and I was the leading scorer of the league there. I like Italy because of the competition. I liked the Middle East because the culture is very misleading with what you see on TV; they love basketball there, the city is not as bad, I played in Dubai and you don’t see all the fighting that you see on TV and they really love basketball. Every place I’ve played really has their ups and downs. China was really nice and a lot of NBA players are going to China right now.”

Rice is currently playing for the Texas Legends averaging 14.9 points a game in his third stint in the NBA Development League. He scored a league-high 39 points on Saturday in a loss to Sioux Falls as he connected on nine 3-pointers and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds. Rice scored 26 in the second half including 18 in the final seven minutes.

Darius Rice scored 1,865 points at Miami (2000-04). (Photo courtesy: UM sports media relations)

“It was a good game, but unfortunately we didn’t win,” Rice said. “Overall I think I played pretty solid. I’m just trying to get a chance to get called up and show my shooting ability and do some things for someone who needs a four man who can stretch the floor.”

It’s not the first time Rice has had a big game in the D-League. As a member of the Dakota Wizards in 2007, Rice scored a record 52 points (on 18 of 29 shooting) in the championship game leading his team to a title. He knocked down 11 3-pointers that day including one with 4.5 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime. To add to his impressive performance, he did it coming off the bench.

“I still watch that DVD every now and then,” Rice said. “I can still see the whole game playing in my head. It was one of my most memorable moments. I scored 69 points overseas in one game, but to win the D-League championship everyone got to see it at home and watch it. I hit the game-tying 3 at the buzzer, then hit eight points in overtime to seal it, and breaking the record for most 3s in a game, there was just so much that goes into that game—coming off the bench.”

Yes, Rice said sixty-nine points. He dropped the improbable total in a game while playing in Dubai. He only hit five 3s that game, but made 24 free throws.

“It was a crazy game,” Rice said. “I was just throwing stuff up and it was going in.”

Rice is a natural scorer who can get very hot at any time and at any place. Take his experience in China back in 2005. Rice signed with a team in Qingdao for $20,000 a month, for two months. He exploded for 58 points in his team debut and followed with a 52-point performance. His two-game eruption led to a tryout with the Dallas Mavericks. Only problem was that his Qingdao squad wasn’t going to let him leave. His passport and cash in a safe deposit box were held from him. An agreement was struck to exchange the cash for his passport, but Rice kept both and was on the run calling it the “scariest experience I ever had.” He eventually caught a flight out of Hong Kong back to the States.

“They wouldn’t let me out,” Rice recalled. “They broke in, kidnapped me, and stole my passport. Eventually I got back in China the next season and it was really nice. I just had that one unfortunate incident, but I got past it.”

Rice, who turned 30 in October, has put overseas ball behind him returning to the States with the hope that it will be easier for NBA scouts to evaluate his abilities as he believes he can be an asset.

Darius Rice hit 9 3-pointers in his 39-point effort Saturday for the Legends (Photo courtesy: Sergio Hentschel)

“Hopefully someone in the NBA needs a veteran who’s played the game, who knows the game, and I can help their team out,” Rice said.

Last summer, Rice worked out with Dallas and San Antonio. Although he did not make the team, he received positive feedback.

“They said I’m an NBA player and I have a good chance of making it so that’s one reason why I came back and tried the D-League,” Rice said. “I came back and tried to show I can perform against this competition. I’m leading the team in rebounding and now that Chris Douglas-Roberts just got called up, scoring-wise too. I’m just hoping I can provide something to some team in the league.”

It has been a vigorous road for Rice. Mentally it hasn’t been easy wondering why he hasn’t “made it” or thinking about how life could have been changed if he had made a different decision. Still, he’s accomplished a lot since lighting up the scoreboards in Western Mississippi. He’s been on all-league teams, collected MVPs, and won championships.

His story is the epitome of determination filled with “what ifs”. What if he would have passed on attending college, what if he left college early? Where would he be today? Rice insists that he has accepted his life’s path and doesn’t dwell much on the past.

“Right now in my mind I’ve pretty much accepted it,” Rice said. “Back in the day when I was 23, 24, 25 just coming out of college, I really had a chip on my shoulder because it was, ‘well you should never have went to college, you should have skipped it, and you should have done this.’ I heard all of that talk. Once I blocked all of that out and played overseas I’ve gotten to appreciate different cultures and different lifestyles. Basketball is pretty much the same all over the world and I’ve played it everywhere. If you love the game you’ll love to play it wherever you play it. My ultimate goal is to be in the NBA and that’s why I came back. It was tough in the beginning, but I’ve accepted it and started playing better, taking care of myself better, and hopefully I’ll get in there.”

And if he were to get that call from an NBA organization?

“I don’t know, I’d be too emotional,” he said. “Because if you know me and you know all of the hard work, all of the things they’ve said about me, and all of things I’ve been through, I’m too small to do this, too slow to play this position, not strong enough, blah, blah, blah. If you look at the game now how it has changed, it fits my style perfectly. You look at the Kevin Durants and all of the long, lengthy skill players that aren’t so big. I think back then I wasn’t that big and was scrutinized for it because I was an outside shooter. Now you see that normally in the NBA. I think it would be a big weight off of my shoulders just to make it and whoever takes that chance on me, they are going to get a great player who works hard, who has been through the highs and lows of the game, and who has a serious chip on his shoulder. I would take full advantage of the opportunity.”

Regardless if the NBA comes calling, Rice is thankful for the opportunities he has had overseas and enjoyed a successful career at Miami as he finished as the school’s fourth all-time scorer with 1,865 points. He earned all-Big East honors three times while helping the Hurricanes to an NCAA tournament.

He also had one of the greatest single-game performances in UM history when he scored 43 points including a buzzer-beating 3 in an upset over No. 3 Connecticut. Sunday marked the ten-year anniversary of the game and he still remembers it like it was yesterday.

“I can still remember that full game, every shot, every moment of everything in that game,” Rice said. “Games like that you don’t forget. It was on ESPN, they were nationally ranked in the top three, and it was the second game in the home arena.”

Rice was in Miami this past summer, but has not been to the campus since he graduated. He remains in touch with a number of former teammates including Robert Hite, Guillermo Diaz, Anthony Harris, Will Frisby, and Eric Wilkins.

He’s hoping that one day Miami decides to retire his No. 21 jersey joining five others in the rafters.

“I hope so,” he said. “I think I did what I had to do at the school. I’m saying this now, but I don’t think I had the coach (Perry Clark) that marketed me and pushed me the way he should have, but things happen.”

Despite playing for a coach that Rice does not speak highly of and the way his basketball career has turned out, looking back at his time in Miami, Rice does not have any regrets.

“If I could do it over again I think I made the right decision,” Rice said. “I committed to Kentucky, a winning program, but I signed with Leonard Hamilton and Miami so I had a vision of starting my own name and I wanted to build something instead of being a part of something that was already established. I think I did what I had to do there. My second year with John Salmons and James Jones we started off 14-0 and were the last undefeated team left and we could have done a lot better—we got upset in the tournament, but if I could do it over again I wouldn’t change a thing.”

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