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New Robert Morris coach born into basketball

| Friday, April 27, 2007

Mike Rice's cell phone has been ringing with job-seekers and well-wishers since he became Robert Morris' basketball coach.

One caller can't stop dialing.

"I can't get my dad to stop calling me," said Rice, 38, a New Kensington native, at a news conference Thursday. "Hour by hour, my phone rings, and it's him giving me advice. My father has always had a lot to do with my basketball career and the growth of the game in the Pittsburgh area."

Mike Rice Sr., who was the head coach at Duquesne University, Youngstown State and Valley High School, said the calls will keep coming.

"I have given him 83 tips so far, and he has taken one," said the elder Rice, 67, who is a television analyst for the Portland Trailblazers. "He can tell it is me on the call waiting without having to look. I can't wait to see him run his own program. He better send me a sweatshirt."

The father said his son is ready to take on his first head coaching job after 14 seasons as an assistant. He has been around basketball since before he could walk, was a ball-boy and attended various camps.

The younger Rice credits his father with instilling in his son work ethic and passion for the game. He recalled meeting former players of his dad's who said what a lasting effect he had on them.

"I want to be like that," said Rice, a Pitt assistant the past season. "I want to be like my dad, because he helped grow the game of basketball in Pittsburgh."

Rice, who signed a five-year deal, said Pitt made it "very, very, very tough to leave."

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon was understanding, Rice said, because Dixon knew Rice was hungry to take the next step. Pitt athletic director Jeff Long told Rice he was welcome back anytime.

"Mike will be a great head coach and will be very successful at Robert Morris," Dixon said. "He is a very good coach and a good recruiter and a very good person. Most importantly, he's where he wants to be, his hometown, Pittsburgh."

Rice replaces Mark Schmidt, who resigned April 9 to take the job at St. Bonaventure. Rice inherits a team that was 17-11 overall and returns four starters. He met the players yesterday. Robert Morris senior forward and Monessen graduate A.J. Jackson said he liked Rice the minute he met him.

"He told us he will bring out the best in each of us," Jackson said. "It will be like your first year at a new school when you need to learn to adjust to a new coach. We will learn to adjust to his style."

Sophomore guard Jeremy Chappell said Rice will help the Colonials on defense, which is one area in which they need improvement. Chappell said the players are committed to Rice.

So is the university.

Coaching is in Rice's blood, said Robert Morris president Gregory Dell'Omo. He said basketball is not just a job to Rice. It is part of who he is.

"He has all the credentials," Robert Morris athletic director Craig Coleman said. "There is nothing like growing up in a basketball family. He has learned the craft from his dad and the other top head coaches he has worked for."

That includes Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli, for whom Rice was an assistant from 2004 to 2006. Martelli said Robert Morris "hit the ball out of the park with Mike Rice." Rice's passion for the game is unmatched, Martelli said, and he is a relentless recruiter.

"You can see his fire for the game," Martelli said. "He has such an engaging personality, and his priorities are in the right place. He has the family support that you need in this profession.

"His wife, Kerry, their children, his parents and sisters, have been there the entire time for him."

Kerry Rice said this was the right move for her husband and their children, Michael, 9, and Katie, 7.

"We get to stay in Pittsburgh, so that is nice," Kerry Rice said. "Mike loves coaching and is the kind of coach who can forget about a loss when he gets home, and just go and play with the kids. Family is important to him."

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