Robert Morris: Colonials hard-pressed to replace Chappell's fire
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Robert Morris men's basketball coach Mike Rice vividly remembers the day his father was ejected from an NBA game.
His dad wasn't coaching. Or even playing. He was a radio broadcaster for the Portland Trail Blazers.
"That was an interesting day in the Rice household," Rice said.
His father, the former Duquesne coach who is also named Mike Rice, is in his 19th season as a radio analyst for the Trail Blazers. During a game against the Indiana Pacers in 1994, he broadcast his displeasure with a call, both to listeners and the officials.
• b Robert Morris at Syracuse in the season opener for the Colonials in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
• When: 7 p.m.
• TV: ESPNU.
He was promptly ejected from his spot on press row.
"I guess that's why his talk show's called 'Wild Rice' now," his son said.
Then a student at Fordham University, the younger Rice was not surprised to hear it. He had always seen that intensity from his father.
"Growing up his son, you had to have a passion -- not just a passion about basketball, but a passion about life," he said. "Whether it was playing Monopoly or backyard kickball when I was younger, he had a passion for winning."
Safe to say the grain didn't fall too far from the plant.
Rice will start his third season as Robert Morris' head basketball coach tonight when the Colonials travel to Syracuse.
In his first two seasons, Rice guided the Colonials to a Northeast Conference record 50 wins, earning two consecutive conference coach of the year honors.
And just as his father commanded intensity from him, Rice expects it from his players.
No player was a better model than Jeremy Chappell, the NEC player of the year last season.
Chappell led the 24-11 Colonials in scoring and rebounding, carrying Robert Morris to an NEC tournament championship and an NCAA tournament berth, the school's first since 1992.
"He was unbelievable," Rice said. "His urgency and intensity was unbelievable. He didn't rest on the floor."
And even if Rice became frustrated with Chappell for being too competitive in practice, he always knew what he was getting from Chappell.
This year, he is not sure what to expect.
Chappell graduated in the spring, and Bateko Francisco, last year's NEC defensive player of the year, is out of eligibility.
History is not on Robert Morris' side if the Colonials want to make it back to the NCAA tournament. NEC coaches picked the Colonials to finish third in the conference, and no team has successfully defended an NEC tournament title since Rider did it in 1993-94.
Mount St. Mary's coach Milan Brown, whose team fell three points short of winning back-to-back titles last season, said teams in conferences such as the NEC cannot rebound as fast as programs in the Big East. The NEC is built on multi-year players, not McDonald's All-Americans, Brown said.
Rice agreed, saying it is tough to "reload" in the NEC.
"This league wins with veterans," he said.
He hopes he has those veterans in forward Rob Robinson (11.2 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game last season) and guard Jimmy Langhurst (9.9 ppg), both seniors.
Langhurst could miss the first two weeks of the season after smashing a finger while lifting weights.
Rice said he would not be surprised if some of his talented freshmen, especially defensive stud Karon Abraham, star on the team.
"You can't replace Jeremy," Rice said, "but you can replace the rebounds and the assists and the points. Hopefully those guys step up."
First Published November 11, 2009 12:00 am