Being a single father thousands of miles away from your homeland while also trying to excel as a professional basketball player is never easy. But thanks to the small, quiet town of Quakenbrück; a great supporting cast around him; and a special meeting with two NBA super stars Tyrese Rice has kept a clear mind to help the Artland Dragons charge into the BBL playoffs.
Rice grew up with a single mother in Chesterfield, Virginia and was a star at L.C. Bird High with his coach Randy Cave serving a father figure to him, helping the lowly-recruited, smaller-sized guard get a scholarship with Boston College after breaking J.J. Redick’s high school state record for three-pointers.
Early in Rice’s freshman season with BC, Cave was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a fast-spreading cancer. And on December 6, 2005, Rice’s mother Allison called Boston College assistant coach Bill Coen to notify him that Cave had passed away. The call came about three hours before Boston College was to play against Michigan State in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on national television.
Rice was shattered upon hearing the news and really didn’t know what to do.
“We had a game at 8 p.m. I wasn’t even dressed or anything. I just came out of the locker room at like 7:45 and just said I’m going to just try it out,” recalled Rice, who played 26 minutes in the game and scored five points.
Rice admits that he seriously considered giving up playing basketball early on in that 2005-06 season.
“It was so tough for me that I almost went home and didn’t play. I was just gonna stop playing basketball. He was pretty much the person that got me into college. I didn’t really have the people behind me to help me out. He was one person that really believed in my ability and really put forth the extra effort to help me out and get me in the right situation. Him dying is the toughest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life,” said Rice.
Long talks with his mother and his grandmother eventually got his mind back into the game.
“I just try to use it as motivation that he’s always watching what I do, knowing that he always believed in what I could do. And just try to use that as my motivation to be better,” said Rice.
Another source of motivation was the birth of his son Ashawn the next month in January 2006.
“My number one goal is to support my family. I have my son here. So my main goal is supporting my son and making sure he’s okay and making sure that my mom is okay,” said Rice.
Rice showed his doubters that he can more than hold his own against the top competition in the highly-regarded Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). He was named to the ACC All-Freshman Team in 2006 and helped Boston College to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament that season. He was also named to the All-ACC 1st Team in 2008 (averaging 21 points and 5 assists per game) and was all conference 2nd Team in 2007 and 2009, even garnering enough votes to be named to the AP All-America Honorable Mention team in 2009.
Rice’s performances did not just impress voters of all-conference teams and the like. Even NBA super star point guards Steve Nash and Chris Paul appreciated Rice’s tireless work ethic and spot-on decision making. And they asked Rice to attend their invite-only elite camp in the summer of 2008 as one of the top 10 guards in the country along with future NBA players Stephen Curry, Jonny Flynn and Toney Douglas.
“It was just a great opportunity, getting help from MVP of the league, NBA All-Stars, all-time great point guards. And then you’re playing against all the other top players in the country at the time,” said Rice.
“They just bring them in and work with them. We all stay in a hotel, we work out together, we eat together, go out. We just pretty much spend four days together. It’s just a great experience. Some guys go in at different times to get their personal one-on-ones with the players and you get taught different things. That was the great thing about being with those two guys.”
When asked if it was his biggest life-changing experience on the court, Rice answered: “Just getting to interact with guys at that level who are at the level that you want to get to at some point in life, it’s always great. You can just take the things they do and the small things that they say, the small things that they do on the floor, just their thought process on the floor helps you as a player.”
Despite the merits of dominating the ACC and attending the elite camp, Rice went through a major let-down on June 25 2009 when he went undrafted in the 2009 NBA Draft.
“That’s just what it was. I’ve been an underdog type of kid my entire life. I was never recruited highly out of high school. I was never really respected that much in college despite the numbers. I just felt like coming over to Europe and giving it my all would hopefully give me another shot,” said Rice.
After playing for the Washington Wizards in the 2009 NBA Summer League, Rice ended up playing the 2009-10 season in the Greek A1 league with Panionios ON Telecoms Athens, averaging 11.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
The 2010 summer was spent with the Utah Jazz Summer League team but he failed to make the team in Salt Lake City before being signed by Stefan Koch to take over playmaking duties for his Artland Dragons for this season.
“Coach (Koch) pretty much gives us the freedom to play our games. He really doesn’t hold anybody back. If you can do something on the floor he wants you to go ahead and do it. I think that helped me a lot coming from Greece, coming from more structured, more closed walls basketball playing. We had guys that were just as good as these guys here but we didn’t have the freedom. Us being able to have the freedom just to play basketball really helps us as a team,” said Rice about the differences between playing with Panionios and Artland.
The move to small Quakenbrück proved to be the next life-changing experience for Rice one year after living in the Greek metropolis Athens.
“It was a lot different. And it was tough being here with not a lot to do. But the best thing I liked about here was that it was a basketball town. Everybody loved basketball, everybody supported it. And I could really focus in on what I was here for – and that was to play basketball. I definitely wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s way better from a basketball aspect than it was in Athens. So I really like it a lot,” said Rice.
The 23-year-old Rice has been a true leader for Koch. He is the second-leading scorer in the league with 17 points per game while also averaging a fourth-best 5.1 assists per game as well as 2.7 rebounds.
But Rice the single father has only been able to do so well as a player because of the surroundings around him – and that thanks to the club.
“I have a great support system with my teammate Florian Hartenstein and his wife and their daughter and son. They really help me out whenever I need it. It’s just a great support system. I couldn’t thank them more for what they’re doing because if they weren’t doing what they’re doing then it wouldn’t be possible for him to be here right now. I definitely thank them with everything I have for giving me the opportunity to have him here.”
The mix of freedom on the court, quiet and calm off the court and support from the team and community has Rice valuing every day he decided to come to Quakenbrück, Germany.
“I think it was probably the best decision I could have made in my career.”
Now he’s just waited for the next life-changing experience – hopefully another positive one.