With the Syracuse game not until Saturday, I figured this would be a good time to look over Mike Rice's first 9 months as basketball coach. He's done a lot right so far. Let's take a look, shall we?
The Fred Hill era is officially over. Those four years turned out to be a disaster and a black eye on the program. Most thought it would take years to recover from the firing. Mike Rice disagreed.
"There is not a white flag in my drawers in my desk where I work," Rice said.
The coach served notice this wasn't a throwaway year. The fans were going to get their money's worth.
Embrace the seniors...
More after the jump...When Fred Hill came in, it became obvious he didn't expect the seniors to help lift the program. Twice he turned the keys over to freshmen: Once to Corey Chandler and Mike Coburn and next to Mike Rosario and Gregory Echenique. He alienated Gary Waters' heralded FIG class, creating the infamous "steak of turmoil".
Rice has done the complete opposite. He inherited three seniors in James Beatty, Coburn and Jonathan Mitchell and challenged them to change the culture. Throughout the preseason, he commented on how they'd bought into what Rice was preaching.
He challenged Coburn to become a bulldog. He challenged Beatty to become a consistent scoring point guard. And he challenged Jonathan Mitchell to become a leader.
It all culminated with last week's shocking win over Villanova. The seniors were the linchpin to that win, and Rice said so in the postgame.
Why is this important?
It does a lot of things for the program. First, the younger players: Dane Miller, Mike Poole, Austin Johnson, and the rest get a sense of leadership from the players who'd been there before. If the seniors are willing to buy-in, why shouldn't they? The seniors are the leaders, and they're doing their best to begin the change of culture. They're not buried on the bench, getting few minutes and still getting blamed for the losses.
Embracing the seniors sets up a hierarchy and a formula for the upcoming years. Under Hill, it was all about next year. Look who's coming next year. Rice has the heralded recruiting class coming in next year, and they may ultimately be the ones to turn the program around, but the coach has shown the current players won't be forgotten. Next year, players like Miller, Johnson, and Tyree Graham will be the ones in charge. They'll set the tone. Rice won't bury them.
And, when the heralded recruiting class finally become veterans, they know they'll be the leaders. They'll be the ones to lead the next batch of recruits to the team. Will Fred Hill, leadership was always in question.
One of the first--and most important--things Rice did right was embrace the seniors, setting the tone for his career on the banks.
Check back for Part 2 later this week.
IN OTHER NEWS: I have an exciting personal announcement. Needle Publishing has agreed to publish a collection of my short stories for e-readers. MORE SINNED AGAINST is currently availble on Amazon for the Kindle.