Gorman: For Rice, Central's Kiernan a sure shot
Bobby Kiernan spent his summer taking his basketball game to the next level at, of all places, the Jersey Shore.
The Central Catholic senior became a better competitor by playing in, of all things, AAU tournaments under the demanding direction, of all people, Mike Rice Jr.
Somehow, Kiernan used the circuit with the bad rap and the coach with the bad rep to become the best player for the Vikings, ranked No. 2 in Class AAAA.
“He's probably elevated his game in almost every area,” said Central coach Chuck Crummie, whom Kiernan also credits for his success. “He doesn't have to score to be valuable to us. His all-around game has improved. He's playing defense, rebounding, bringing the ball up the floor. His confidence is really solid.”
Kiernan credits much of his improvement to his time with Rice, who became known as a profanity-laced pariah in the college basketball world when videotapes of him berating and bullying his players at Rutgers became public in 2013.
“A lot of people would see clips on ESPN and say, ‘What are you doing? Are you insane?' ” Kiernan said. “My mom would hear comments in the stands.
“He said some terrible things at Rutgers, but I've never seen that person. I tell people a) He's the best coach I've ever met in my life; and b) If I ever felt personally insulted I would have packed up and left. It was a great experience. I wouldn't have changed it for the world.”
To the Kiernans, Rice is family.
Their relationship dates to the late 1970s at Duquesne, when Rice's father, Mike Sr., coached the Dukes and Kiernan's grandfather, the late political consultant Mossie Murphy, was one of their biggest boosters.
Mike Jr. and Mary (Murphy) Kiernan were friends, so it was natural that their sons would play summer basketball together when Mike coached at Robert Morris from 2007-10.
Bobby Kiernan played with Michael III on the Shore Shots AAU team and stayed with the Rice family around tourneys, where workouts and driveway battles occurred daily.
“There's barely any downtime. He's always got you on your toes,” Kiernan said. “Coach Rice teaches you how to be tough and how to battle. He's a competitor. I wanted to win every day in the driveway.”
Battling Michael, a point guard who will play at Franklin and Marshall, helped the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Kiernan become a better ball-handler and outside shooter after playing in the post.
“After we'd get done playing four or five games in a weekend, he'd be out in the driveway with my son yelling, ‘Let's get shots up,' ” Rice Jr. said. “He has a relentless work ethic, in the classroom and on the court. Who does that? He should be swimming in the pool or on the beach or playing video games. Not Bobby Kiernan.
“He probably has D-III talent, but in my eight years of being a D-I head coach he'd be a breath of fresh air. I tell coaches, ‘You're not going to find that.' ”
Nor are they going to find a player with a 5.15 grade-point average, which ranks first in Central's class. Kiernan makes it clear that his academics — he plans to study economics or (no surprise) political science — take priority over basketball.
Working with his son and Kiernan also proved beneficial to Rice Jr., who is back in basketball as the interim coach at The Patrick School in Elizabeth, N.J.
“Bobby's not a top-100 player, but when you're a basketball lifer you enjoy developing players,” Rice said. “I enjoy it more with Bobby because of how hard he works. Everything you say, he's going to give you everything he has. Right now, I'm having the time of my life. It's fun being back, being associated with such talented individuals.”
Even better that it was a hometown kid who helped Rice remember what it's all about.