- Category: Volume 88 (Fall 2016 - Spring 2017)
- Published: 25 January 2017
- Written by JOHN SORCE | SPORTS EDITOR
When college basketball fans think about the most iconic venues in the country, Dean Smith Center is near the top of many lists.
Monmouth men’s basketball Head Coach King Rice played collegiate basketball at North Carolina under legendary coach Dean Smith from 1988-91 and was the starting point guard on their 1991 final four team. Rice finished his career at North Carolina third on the Tar Heels’ all-time assist list with 629.
Rice returned to Chapel Hill on Dec. 28 when Monmouth fell to the university of North Carolina 102-74 in front of 20,064 fans. But the experience was so much more than just a game for Rice and the Hawks.
“I want to start out by saying thank you to (Current North Carolina) Coach (Roy) Williams,” an emotional Rice said after the game. “He treats me like I’m one of his sons. He always tries to take care of me since I was a kid. I’m the luckiest guy that in 1987, Coach Smith gave me a scholarship and it’s made me have a great, great, great life.”
“The relationships I have, tonight I had (UNC standout) Jimmy Black sitting with me. J.R. Reid, Coach (Phil) Ford, and many, many more came today because I was here with my team,” Rice added. “And I’m thankful to all the coaches - Coach Ford, Coach (Randy) Weil, Coach (Dick) Harp, Coach Gut (Bill Guthridge). They took a hard-headed young kid and turned him into a man. Took me a little longer than some other people.”
The two teams were close early on before North Carolina went to work. Junior forward Justin Jackson scored 17 points, including five three-pointers, in the first half. But the Hawks ended the first half on a 12-2 run, capped by a three-pointer from half court at the buzzer by redshirt sophomore guard Micah Seaborn, that cut the deficit to single digits going into the locker room.
But Monmouth had three technical fouls in under a minute early in the second half, which enabled North Carolina to gain momentum.
“It was a nine point game and then we get three techs and give up a couple baskets and all of a sudden, we’re down by 17 before the first media timeout in not just any ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) building, but probably the ACC building,” senior point guard Justin Robinson said, who scored all of his 16 points in the first half. “It’s going to be almost impossible for any mid major team to come back from that.”
The Tar Heels outscored the blue and white 52-33 in the second half, extending their lead to as much as 25 points. Jackson led all scorers with 28 points while Seaborn led the Hawks with 19.
This was the second time that Rice took his team to Chapel Hill since becoming the head coach for the Hawks in 2011 – the first coming on New Year’s Day 2012. The Tar Heels were ranked sixth in the country at that time and were ranked ninth when they played the Hawks in December.
Williams recruited Rice while he was an assistant under Smith. Williams left North Carolina to accept the head coaching position at Kansas in 1988 – just before Rice got to North Carolina, but their relationship is undeniable.
“He’s a great kid. He’s still a kid to me,” Williams said after the game. “I remember recruiting him years ago and thought he was one of the toughest kids I’ve ever been around. We’ve had some good heart-to-heart talks. My first year back here he was in town and he came to play pick-up with our guys almost every day and that really set the tone for my entire 14 years here. They had more road wins than anybody in college basketball last year and it’s just the way the system is set up that they didn’t make the (NCAA) Tournament. They’ve won 38 games up to this point since last year. He’s a great, great guy and I’m extremely proud of him.”
Rice has nothing but praise for the man that opened the door for him to play at North Carolina, which opened up so many other doors after his collegiate career.
“Coach Williams was the lead recruiter on me when I was a kid so I’m very close to him and when I first became a head coach, he was the first guy to tell me that he was going to play me,” Rice said.
“What he has done with the program here has been top notch,” Rice added. “He’s a Hall of Famer and I hope he’s doing this for 20 more years. I hope people appreciate what they have in him because sometimes people don’t understand how lucky they are to have a man like Roy Williams run their program. He is top notch as a man, a coach and a mentor and we are lucky that he is the coach at North Carolina.”
PHOTO COURTESY of Andy Mead/YCJ Photos