Tyrese Rice overcomes adversity to be a leader for Boston College
BC guard Tyrese Rice carries the lessons learned from HS coach Randy Cave
Cave died of cancer before he could see Rice play in college
Boston College will rely on Rice's scoring and leadership abilities
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Around 11 o'clock one night in the fall of 2004, Tyrese Rice arrived alone at the L.C. Bird High gym in Chesterfield, Va.
Given a key by Bird coach Randy Cave, the star senior walked inside and began his routine. Smoothing his high-arcing stroke and experimenting with the rhythm of his stop-and-go crossover, he tired after three hours and repaired to the locker room. Instead of going home afterward to sleep before classes, he took a shower, walked into Cave's office, and slept on the couch until school began. "I probably shouldn't tell you coach gave me that access," said Rice. "I never wanted to get him in trouble."
Cave, a heavyset 43-year-old with no family of his own, welcomed Rice, the son of a single mother, into his life since his freshman year. Instilling discipline, he once made Rice do pushups on the court during a game for missing an easy lay-up. Assisting with his recruitment, Cave, frustrated that Division I coaches would not offer his star guard a scholarship, scheduled national power Oak Hill (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) to spotlight him. "He was a father figure," said Rice, who scored 30 against Oak Hill and was later offered scholarships by East Carolina and Boston College. "He was always there."
By the time the 6-foot-1 guard -- who broke J.J. Redick's Virginia career three-pointers record -- moved on to Boston College that summer, Cave was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma, a fast-spreading cancer classified as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. While home before practices began, Rice noticed Cave's pain, but he thought little of it. His mother, Allison, visited Cave in the Medical College of Virginia at the start of the season and told the coach to hang in and he could see her son play on national television against Michigan State in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Cave never saw Rice take the court. Late in the afternoon of Dec. 6, 2005, Allison Rice called Boston College associate coach Bill Coen, who is now the head coach at Northeastern, to inform him that Cave had passed. Pulling the 18-year-old out from a Michigan State film session in Manhattan's Affinia Dumont Hotel three hours prior to the night's game, Coen handed him the phone. "I just zoned out," Rice said.
That night he started, played 26 minutes and scored five points, but Cave's death forced him dwell on his future. The next month, his first son, Ashawn, whose mother he was no longer with, was born and Rice was at a crossroads. "I had to lean on my family," he said.
Upon returning to the court, Rice -- who didn't miss any games -- curtailed his scoring to fit with the senior-laden team of future pros Craig Smith (Minnesota Timberwolves), Sean Williams (New Jersey Nets) and Jared Dudley (Charlotte Bobcats). Adjusting to the screw-turning nature of BC coach Al Skinner's flex offense, Rice's outside shooting complemented point guard Louis Hinnant's game-managing style. "For my point guards, the position is the think tank of the team," Skinner said. "We knew he could score. What impressed was his ability to make plays."
Short for a shooter, Rice -- who received no offers from ACC schools -- had to overcome questions about his height. At an AAU event in Orlando, Coen witnessed Rice hit five threes in an eight-minute quarter. With no place on the depth chart for him, BC only increased its effort when sophomore Steve Hailey opted to transfer. In need of a back-up and future replacement for Hinnant, the Eagles invited Rice to take an official visit to campus that April. When he stepped off the plane at Logan Airport, Rice was carrying a ball with him. "You could see why his dribble has that thing on a string," Coen said.
Rice enjoyed a Sweet 16 run that ended on a goaltending call his first year and a second-round NCAA appearance his sophomore season, but last year's campaign humbled him. Unaccustomed to losing, he suffered through two six-game losing streaks. Even his 46 points on 8 of 12 three-point shooting could not beat North Carolina. "I couldn't even brag about that outburst at home," said Rice, who carried the Eagles by averaging 38.1 minutes, 21 points, 5 assists and 1.6 steals per game. "My grandmother scored 72 in a high school game."
His individual performances did not go unnoticed. North Carolina's Roy Williams and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski praised his performances against their teams and he was named to the All-ACC first team. Steve Nash and Chris Paul -- impressed with his tireless ethic and spot-on decision making -- spent personal time with him at their invite-only camps. As the lone senior on a roster of three freshmen, seven sophomores and one junior, Skinner's rotation is made up of Tyrese and the Tykes this season, but it includes several pieces that should ease his burden. A post player able to step out for jumpers, Vermont transfer Joe Trapani (6-8, 218 pounds) pairs with Corey Raji (6-5, 214), an effective beneath-the-rim offensive rebounder. "There's an unspoken understanding that coach places in his guard to lead," Rice said. "I'm just looking to win like we did my first two years."
Just as cyclical as the leadership position, three years after Cave's death, Rice -- who shot uncharacteristically poorly (2 of 14) in an uninspired 53-50 loss to St. Louis last Saturday -- returns to The Garden Wednesday for the NIT semi against Purdue. After Saturday's game, his mother, feeling he needed space, sent him a text message. "I wanted him to know he could put it in his past," she said. "He had to move on."