Vipers coach: Rice will be fearless for Wizards

Vipers coach: Rice will be fearless for Wizards
July 1, 2013, 8:00 am
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How do the Wizards draft picks fit in DC?

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Glen Rice Jr. may be coming to the Wizards with some major question marks, but ability and confidence probably won’t be among them.

Rice, who was acquired in a trade on draft night from the Philadelphia 76ers, is a 6-5 shooting guard/small forward who led the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to the D-League championship last season.

"We played super up-tempo. We led the league in scoring (at 108.7 per game),” said Vipers coach Nick Nurse, who believes he’ll be a nice fit with point guard John Wall. “He can run to those corners and knock down those shots. Should be good. I know he won't be afraid to shoot them. That's for sure.

“Washington is a good spot for him. The talent's there. It's not always just about that. It’s about right place, right time, right system, right coach, right players. A lot of things got to come together. He's got a lot of talent. He's not afraid.”

In only one season, Rice exploded onto the scene. He played in 42 regular season games and averaged 13 points (49% shooting) and 6.2 rebounds in 24 minutes. In six playoff games, he contributed 25 points (47.3% shooting), 9.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks in 39 minutes.

Rice, 22, went under the radar in the draft because he was mostly forgotten about. He spent three seasons at Georgia Tech but was kicked out of school after a gun incident at an Atlanta nightclub.

Rather than transferring to another D-I school and having to sit out a year per NCAA rules, Rice went to Hidalgo, Texas, where he played for Rio Grande Valley, the D-League affiliate of the Houston Rockets.

“We had a really good experience with him here. He's got a lot of talent. Can shoot, can score, gets it to the basket, a pretty good rebounder for his position," Nurse said. "Maybe a slightly above average defender as well. That's probably people's biggest question mark about him. He did a good job defensively for us.”

D-League players aren't as big and physical as they are in the NBA, so Rice even played some power forward. That allowed him to do a lot of things to refine his game.

“Our league gets a little smaller at times. Basically he was a wing runner, three-point shooter, took it to the basket. We posted him up some,” Nurse said. “When he'd rebound he'd bring it up. We're pretty open. We do that stuff. 

“He's got a funky little game. I throw him in the crafty category. He gets by people. He kind of moves side to side, has the Euro-step. He moves the ball a lot when he's trying to score. He's a good ball-handler. He's got a little stuff to him in his one-on-one game."

Of course, what Rice is like off the court is what prevented him from being a first-round pick. Given his gun incident in college -- and the Wizards’ recent history with gun incidents in the locker room with Gilbert Arenas -- there’s a major concern about his maturity and if he fits with the new culture.

Coach Randy Wittman has been adamant about having a locker room free of drama and malcontents, and he felt that was accomplished when Jordan Crawford was traded to the Boston Celtics in February.

That shouldn't be a problem based on Nurse’s experience. Rice was responsible and a consummate professional who showed leadership qualities. 

“Obviously with some of the things that happened at Georgia Tech that was a concern, but he's a really likable kid. Our players really liked him. He's an intelligent kid, a hard-working kid. All of those things are a good start,” he said. “We didn't have any issues with him off the floor, never even heard whispers or rumors of anything off the floor. Never saw him on the road coming in late or any of that kind of stuff.

“We just tried to spell it out for him that he needed to keep his head down and let his play do his talking. That was it. He really did a good job with that. I've been in this league six years and I haven't seen too many rookies who have been that patient and just kept on working and put up those kind of numbers when they got that opportunity. It was a pretty impressive run by him. He's not a shy kid or a quiet kid, that's for sure. He's smart and kind of funny. Our players really liked him. He was kind of a focal point of our team, the kind of guy people gravitated to.”

Though Nurse only had Rice for a year, he’s knows where he has to work to succeed in Washington. The NBA will be more demanding. 

“The biggest adjustment he has to make is just the sheer size of the NBA players versus our league. A lot of the stuff you're getting to the rim and scoring in this league is going to get sent the other direction,” Nurse said. “Just trying to find ways to move it around the rim, get it in the hole when you attack the basket. Defensively, the speed and quickness and the talent of the guys he's going to be guarding is going to be a notch higher so he's going to have to be able to dig in and handle that too. I'm pretty confident he'll be able to do that. We had him guard a lot of wings. He's a pretty intelligent defender. He knows how to get around screens and where he's supposed to be on help and stuff like that."