Rice Finally Sees Rutgers On Court

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers first-year hoops coach Mike Rice can finally see first-hand the talent he has on the floor as the Scarlet Knights can now conduct limited practices under NCAA rules. Although full squad workouts cannot start until next month, Rice and his staff is able to work with groups of players on the court, and the coach spoke exclusively to ScarletReport.com about what he sees.

The film watching told one thing, and the discussions with the players another, but there is nothing like seeing the players on the floor to give new Rutgers coach Mike Rice an indication of what he inherited.

With Rutgers in session, the coaching staff began holding limited practice sessions Sept. 2, and it gave Rice his first look at the on-court version of the Scarlet Knights, and a glimpse as to what needs to be worked on for the Nov. 12 opener at Princeton.

"There's a reason why they gave up 48 percent defensive field coach percentage," Rice said. "They're not instinctive defensive players. I've learned that they want to win. They'll do anything that I ask them to do. That's a very positive thing. They're open because they're hungry for success."

At his introductory press conference, Rice said the practices would be more difficult than games because of the intensity level.

And getting in condition for those practices is proving taxing for the Scarlet Knights.

"You can't control what happens, but you can control how you respond," Rice said. "So you didn't work as probably hard as you should have in the summer, and you know what, they came back at six o'clock in the morning the next day and ran and tried hard, and that's all I can ask for, to be honest for you."

Since Rice wasn't hired until the end of the spring semester after Rutgers' messy divorce with former coach Fred Hill, he didn't have an opportunity to see the Scarlet Knights work out until two weeks ago.

"People don't think too much of them, but you never know until you really get in there, and I have a tendency to overwhelm at times when we're going into our teaching," Rice said. "I do it on purpose. I want to throw things at them, I want to throw things hard.

"They may not understand everything I want to do, but I want them to go and do it on the fly and learn on the fly, and let it become instinctive. They're trying as hard as they can, and that's all I can ask for."

Because of the knee injury to junior college point guard Tyree Graham, Rutgers will have nine scholarship players for the season, which means Rice will not have the depth to implement the high-intensity, high-pressure style that made him successful at Robert Morris.

And, with a lack of size, it will cause the Scarlet Knights to play with a small lineup.

"You'll see pieces of style," Rice said. "I'm not a huge zone fan. There are times where we've got to go zone because of foul trouble, or because some guys are wearing down at some points of the game.

"Bits of pieces you will see of that aggressiveness, ultimately dictating to the offense with our defense, hopefully attacking and sharing the ball."

Because of the lack of true center, Rice said Austin Johnson, Gilvydas Biruta, Robert Lumpkins, Jonathan Mitchell and Dane Miller could all find themselves playing in the middle.

"When your center is only 6-7 and you're thin everywhere, to be honest with you, you just don't have the numbers or the size or strength to compete in this beast of a league," Rice said. "So, we'll adjust some things.

"Some of players' roles will have to be a little bigger and will have to accept some more responsibility. Again, this is a hungry group to prove people wrong and hopefully they do."

However, through summer conditioning and his discussions with players, and now that Rice is able to instruct the Scarlet Knights for a limited time until practice begins next month, a common theme keeps emerging.

"Guys are really working hard, buying in and wanting to prove everybody wrong, to be honest with you," Rice said. "I don't hide from the fact that coaches picked us 15 out of 16, or that the media thinks you stink, or any individual thinks it will be another losing year.

"We challenge them every day, but what I like is they have tremendous energy and intensity."

One of Rice's practice concepts is to make his players uncomfortable with the amount of pressure being put on them, so when they are faced with adverse situations in games they already know how to deal with it.

"I throw a lot of drills on them, and when they make mistakes, they hear about it," Rice said. "It's not always as an individual, but when they make the same mistake, that is when we start to have problems.

"They're going to make the same mistakes, but they need to have an urgency of learning what our formula is because if we're not rock solid and having five guys doing everything than can to help their teammates, we're not going to be very successful."

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