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Thursday, May 6, 2010
Rice enters the mix at Rutgers

By Kieran Darcy

Rutgers officially introduced Mike Rice as its new men's basketball coach at a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

Rice has a tall task ahead of him. Rutgers finished 14th out of 16 teams in the Big East this past season. Its best player, Mike Rosario, has transferred to Florida. Hamady Ndiaye, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, has exhausted his eligibilty. The Scarlet Knights have not made the NCAA tournament since 1991.

Rice, naturally, sounded optimistic on his first day on the job. "I believe Rutgers University has everything a program needs to be successful," he said.

Among the things Rice specifically mentioned were Rutgers' strong academic reputation, its extensive fanbase, and the rich talent pool of players nearby. "When it comes to recruiting, my focus will be on getting the best players in the tri-state area," Rice said.

He knows the area well -- Rice played at Fordham University, and has recruited the area heavily as an assistant at stops including Fordham, St. Joseph's and Pittsburgh, before becoming the head coach at Robert Morris three years ago. He also was very successful at Robert Morris, with a 73-31 record and two consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament. The Colonials just barely missed knocking off No. 2 seed Villanova in this year's Big Dance, losing 73-70 in OT.

Rice will move quickly in terms of recruiting, since Rutgers still has several scholarships open for next season. He plans to make visits with 3-4 players in the next 5-7 days.

As for the current players on his depleted roster -- he met with them for the first time Thursday morning, before the press conference, and will be putting them to work right away. "We're gonna make sure we're the best-conditioned team in the Big East," Rice said.

Rice also revealed his favorite quote that he gives to his teams for inspiration: "You can't always control what happens -- you can control 100 percent of the time how your respond."

We shall see how the current Rutgers players, and recruits, respond to Rice.