Rice, Jr. Takes Road Less Traveled to NBA

Wheat Hotchkiss

June 17, 2013 | Updated 6:20 PM EDT

Glen Rice, Jr.’s path to the NBA has been anything but conventional. Despite his famous name and once-promising college career, Rice spent the last year far away from the spotlight.

This past season, Rice honed his game in relative obscurity in Hidalgo, Texas – four hours south of San Antonio – with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA’s Developmental League.

The D-League was an unexpected detour on the road to stardom for Rice, Jr., the namesake of three-time NBA All-Star Glen Rice. Nonetheless, he believes his experiences in the D-League helped him become more prepared for the NBA.

“It not as bad as the image has it to be,” Rice said following Monday’s pre-draft workout with the Indiana Pacers. “…I believe the D-League competition is a little bit better (than college). There’s older, bigger guys and there’s guys that have already been (in the NBA).”

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After showing promise in the high school hotbed of Atlanta, Rice stayed close to home and attended Georgia Tech. He showed promise coming off the bench as a freshman, shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range and even making the ACC All-Academic team.

After moving into a starting role, Rice continued to excel on the court over the next two years, but ran into trouble away from it. He averaged 13 points and 6.7 rebounds in 21 games as a junior, but battled injuries and was suspended for the last six games of the season. After the year ended, Rice was dismissed from the team.

“It was a mistake,” Rice said Monday. “I learned from it, and I’m better off from it now.”

Rather than transfer to another college and have to sit out a year, Rice decided to enter the D-League draft and play right away. Because Rice hadn't exhausted his college eligibility, he could enter the D-League last fall while still maintaining eligibility for the NBA Draft this summer. Rio Grande Valley picked him in the fourth round, and he spent the entire season with the team.

Rice claims that the D-League better prepared him for the NBA, particularly with adjusting to the longer 3-point line and shorter shot clock, which generally leads to a faster pace of play.

He flourished with the Vipers, averaging 13 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Those numbers actually undersell how well Rice played, as he received limited playing time in the early part of the season. In 25 games as a starter, Rice averaged 18 points and eight rebounds, while shooting 43-percent from 3-point range.

Rice performed even better in the playoffs, averaging 25 points, 9.5 assists, and 4.3 assists. He stuffed the stat sheet in a two-game sweep of Santa Cruz in the D-League Finals, averaging 29 points, 11.5 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and 3.5 blocks.

Rice’s strong performance with Rio Grande Valley sent his stock for this year’s NBA draft soaring. Rice’s hopes of adding his name to the growing list of D-League alumni in the NBA (given his recent performance in the NBA Finals, San Antonio’s Danny Green is likely the most famous name on that list) seem very realistic. He’s currently projected as a borderline first round pick, and hopes to improve on that standing in workouts.

Given his performance this year, there’s little question Rice has the tools offensively to contribute to an NBA team. But Rice, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, acknowledges he needs to prove to NBA teams that he can maintain defensive intensity for prolonged stretches. Monday’s workout provided him with a solid challenge, having to chase around a pair of prolific outside shooters in Butler’s Rotnei Clarke and VCU’s Troy Daniels.

“We’ve had shooters before in other workouts, but these guys were really knocking down shots,” Rice said. “They made you play a lot closer, a lot tougher. It was definitely a good experience.”

Whether it’s the Pacers or another team, Rice is almost sure to hear his name called on Draft Night. It may not have been the path he originally envisioned, but his dreams are within sight.

Scott Drawing Inspiration from Former Rival Stephenson

Miami guard Durand Scott might not be a household name in Indiana, but his name is all too familiar to Pacers guard Lance Stephenson.

Long before either player set foot in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Stephenson and Scott sparked up a budding rivalry on the concrete courts of New York City. Stephenson was the more celebrated player, leading Lincoln High School to back-to-back state titles and capturing the New York Daily News’ City Player of the Year honors as a sophomore and junior.

But Scott, who grew up in the Bronx, got the best of Stephenson their senior year. Scott’s Rice High School squad pounded Lincoln 77-50 in the state semifinals, and Scott held the future Pacers star to just 12 points. It was Scott, not Stephenson, who won the Daily News’ Player of the Year honors in 2009.

With Scott working out for the Pacers on Monday night, he knew Stephenson’s name was going to be a popular topic of conversation.

“I had a feeling that question was coming,” Scott said, breaking into a wide smile. “That’s kind of what I’ve been talking about all day.”

“It was just a rivalry on the court,” Scott said about Stephenson. “Off the court, we’re great friends, we talk. I’m very happy for him, the season he’s had, what he’s accomplished in his life and how much he’s just matured and become the player that he is.”

While Stephenson enjoyed a breakout season this year in the NBA, moving into the starting lineup and helping the Pacers to their first conference finals appearance since 2004, Scott had a fine year in his own right in south Florida.

Scott was a vital part of coach Jim Larranaga’s deep Miami team that captured the ACC regular season and tournament titles and reached the Sweet 16 for just the second time in program history. Scott averaged 13.1 points, four rebounds, and 2.6 assists as a senior shooting guard for the Hurricanes. He developed into a lockdown defender, averaging 1.6 steals per game and taking home ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Scott plays his game with the same tough-nosed aggression that has endeared Stephenson to Pacers fans. Scott said Monday he’s not surprised that toughness tends to be a trademark of New York City guards (another example would be Bobcats guard Kemba Walker, who was a year ahead of Scott at Rice).

“We just try to go out there and play basketball as hard as we can,” Scott said. “Growing up in the New York streets, you’ve been fouled, you’ve been hit, you’ve been bleeding. Everybody’s broke something.”

Though he already shares Stephenson’s toughness, Scott is hopeful they’ll soon share more than that. After a decorated college career (he started more games than any player in Miami history), Scott’s trying to join Stephenson in the professional ranks. He’s undersized – measuring out at just under 6-foot-3 at the pre-draft Portsmouth Invitational – and he has to prove to NBA scouts that he can play point guard after playing mostly off the ball alongside potential lottery pick Shane Larkin the past two seasons.

But as he sets out to make the leap, Scott says he’s drawn inspiration from the player that was once his biggest rival.

“Until this day he might not know it, but I look up to him,” Scott said about Stephenson. “...Just going out there and showing by example, showing that a New York kid that came from nothing built up and (reached) his peak of his basketball abilities…that’s something I try to follow and try to imitate.”