Wizards’ Glen Rice Jr. was excited about first career start, but tried to keep level head

December 12, 2013

(USA TODAY Sports)

Washington Wizards rookie Glen Rice Jr. didn’t want to believe Bradley Beal when Beal told the rookie that he was going to make his first NBA start on Monday against the Denver Nuggets.

“He was like, ‘Whatever,’ ” Beal said.

When the team’s shootaround began and Rice found out that he would be running plays with the Wizards’ first unit, Beal said Rice started singing a different tune: “Then he was like, ‘Oh man, I’m starting?!’ ”

Rice kept his cool after his initial shock and didn’t alter his pregame preparation. He called his parents, took his nap and didn’t want to let the experience overwhelm him.

“It wasn’t like, ‘Turn the TV on, I’ll be starting today!’ I hope they was going to watch, either way,” Rice said with a laugh about his conversations with parents, Tracey Starwood and Glen Rice Sr. “Of course it was exciting, knowing that I was going to be able to play, knowing that I was going to get into the game. It was exciting but it’s just another day.”

Rice scored seven points and added three rebounds and three steals in the Wizards’ 75-74 loss to the Nuggets. He even had a chance to be the hero when he intercepted a pass from Denver’s Andre Miller near the Wizards’ basket. He quickly found John Wall cutting to the hoop, but Wall missed the layup and Garrett Temple had a putback attempt swatted out of bounds.

“We got the steal. We knew we had another shot to win the game. Shots didn’t fall,” Rice said.

But the loss and a poor shooting effort in which he shot just 3 of 9 from the field and also missed 4 of 5 from three-point range didn’t completely diminish a night that Rice said was “something you look forward to, dream about.”

“It was fun,” he said. “I wish I could’ve made a couple more shots. That’s the main thing: Make a couple more shots. We only scored 70 points. I feel like that’s one thing I need to keep working on. Make sure I get here early, get extra shots up.”

After missing his first three shots against the Nuggets, Rice decided to attack the basket and drove along the baseline for a two-handed dunk that gave the Wizards a 37-34 lead in the second period.

Rice has struggled with his jumper early in his career, connecting on just 25 percent (6 for 24) from the field and 23 percent (3 for 13) from three-point range. But won’t be Rice bashful when he’s on the floor just because he hasn’t seen much drop yet.

“It’s going to come around. I can shoot the ball. I’m not worried about that. Can’t make the shot if you don’t take it,” Rice said. “In any case, you see that ball going through the basket, whether you play a lot or don’t play at all, it always helps. Any shot.”

Coach Randy Wittman has urged his backups to be more assertive when they enter the game. He hasn’t had to have that discussion with Rice, who made his first shot –  a three-pointer — within seconds of making his NBA debut in a loss in Dallas.

With Beal (right fibula) and Martell Webster (sprained left ankle) both sidelined and fellow rookie Otto Porter still easing his way back from a right hip injury, Wittman didn’t have many options to insert on the perimeter. He was satisfied with what Rice gave the team on both ends against Denver.

“The kid, he tried to play the right way, did a lot of good things defensively. And those are the things that, when you’re talking about a young kid, getting his first extended playing time of being focused and understanding what we were doing and I thought he was right on,” Wittman said. “The mistakes that he made were aggressive mistakes. And that’s what I like. That’s what I tell our guys. If you’re going to make mistakes, make one because you’re trying to hard, rather than you’re not trying and I see that, and I like that aggression in Glen.”

Webster practiced for the second straight day without complications and is expected to return to the starting lineup when the Wizards play Rice’s hometown Atlanta Hawks on Friday at Philips Arena. Rice, who also starred at Georgia Tech, said moving back to a reserve role shouldn’t change the way he prepares for games.

Having already experienced life in the NBA Development League, where he had to wait behind veterans to get an opportunity, Rice learned the value of patience and time management.

Unlike most first-year players, he didn’t come directly from college, where his schedule was set around class and practices. With veterans like Webster and Trevor Ariza pushing him, Rice said he has to show up early and stay late if he expects to see the court.

“I’m always ready to play basketball. If I didn’t know I was going to play and when I did know I was going to start, I stayed ready,” Rice said. “I know when you get in, just got to contribute. Contribute in a positive way. It doesn’t matter how much you play, it matters the production when you play.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · December 12, 2013