LAS VEGAS — For as long as he can remember, Glen Rice Jr. imagined playing in the NBA.
He was 3 years old when his father — 15-year NBA veteran Glen Rice Sr. — lifted him to the rim so he could dunk the ball after a Miami Heat practice. Later, after his father was traded to Charlotte, they teamed up in three-point shooting competitions against Dell Curry and his son, Stephen.
The younger Rice also formed an unlikely friendship with Vlade Divac in Charlotte. When his father played for the Lakers, Rice had a secret handshake with Shaquille O’Neal and was given a book by Kobe Bryant.
“In my head, I’m sure it was always serious. Especially since my dad was in the league,” said Rice, whose father was a three-time all-star. “So it didn’t seem too far-fetched. Even as a little kid, it was what I always wanted to do, what I wanted to work on. I just wanted to be out there, on TV, playing with some of the greatest players.”
Rice finally reached his dream when the Philadelphia 76ers drafted him 35th overall and immediately traded him to the Washington Wizards in last month’s draft. He is now seeking a spot with the Wizards during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, but his journey got complicated along the way.
Rice earned a scholarship to Georgia Tech and provided several examples of his scoring prowess, including a career-high 28-point performance against Duke during his junior season. But he was eventually undone by a series of poor off-court decisions that resulted in his dismissal from the team 16 months ago. To restore his reputation, Rice spent last season in the NBA Development League.
“It’s what you hope to see from when you know a kid since he was a junior in high school,” said George Mason Coach Paul Hewitt, who recruited Rice and coached him for two seasons at Georgia Tech. “I think the road, the path that he’s taken, gives him a great appreciation for how difficult it is to achieve what he’s achieved. Now, I think he understands, it’s a precious opportunity.”
Rice, 22, chooses not to dwell on his turbulent time at Georgia Tech, where he was suspended twice for violating team rules. Coach Brian Gregory eventually kicked him off the team after an incident in which one of the individuals in his car was charged with a DUI while another discharged a firearm.
Rice, who was charged with permitting the unlawful operation of a vehicle in the incident, scorched what had been a promising junior season with the Yellow Jackets in which he led the team in scoring, rebounding and steals. His father was understandably upset when he heard about the dismissal.
“You’ve got to be a lot smarter, you’ve got to make better decisions,” Glen Rice Sr. said in a recent telephone interview. “I was hard on him, and also at the same time it was disappointing. I let him know: ‘I understand college life. I was there before.’ Sometimes things happen that you regret, and you wish you could take back. I let him know that he had my full support. By no means was I going to ever turn my back on my son in any given situation. It’s just he had to grow up.”
A 6-foot-6 swingman, Glen Rice Jr. considered transferring and his father pushed for him to go to Europe before he decided to head to the D-League. The Rio Grande Valley Vipers drafted Rice in the fourth round.
Rice had to get used to coming off the bench at times. Coaches worked to refine his jumper and he played every position between point guard and power forward, adjusting to every role without complaint. When given the chance to carry a larger role in the playoffs, Rice averaged 25 points and 9.5 rebounds and led the Vipers to the D-League championship.
“I didn’t expect him to do what he was going to do this year. First of all, there is not a lot of guys, rookies, that can have the kind of season that he had in the D-League and what he did was a really pleasant surprise,” said Nick Nurse, Rice’s coach with the Vipers who is now an assistant with the Toronto Raptors.
Nurse said he never discussed Rice’s past at Georgia Tech when he arrived in Hidalgo, Tex., a Mexican border town about 250 miles south of San Antonio. “I kind of gave him a small list of requirements in order to be a good member of our team. He was a great teammate, his teammates loved him. He worked hard. He had a really remarkable season. I been coaching in this league for six years and I’m not sure I’ve seen a rookie develop, improve, and perform as well as he has.”
Hewitt had a chance to spend some time with Rice during the Wizards’ summer league minicamp last week and noticed a difference. He also had a recent conversation with New York Knicks guard Iman Shumpert, Rice’s teammate for a year at Georgia Tech.
“Iman said he teased him,” Hewitt said. “Glen said, ‘I figured it out, I’ve just got to keep my mouth shut and play.’ Iman said to him, ‘If you had done that in college, it would’ve been so much easier for all of us.’ Some kids, it takes a little more time to mature, that’s all.”
Glen Rice Sr. said he was never worried about his son on the court because Rice always desired to “set his own path” and be a more complete player. But he worried about how his son would respond to adversity and challenges away from the game. The past year has alleviated many of those concerns.
“I’m super proud of my son,” said Glen Rice Sr., who split with Rice’s mother, Tracey Starwood, in 1995. “Any time you pretty much hit rock bottom in your career of becoming an NBA player, your chances are dwindled to nonexistence, it’s humbling. And he was humbled. He was brought to his knees and very quickly understood that the things that are going on, and with the path he was taking was unacceptable. He came out of it with flying colors. He’s a different person now.”
Glen Rice Jr. said the changes that he has made have more to do with just getting older.
“I was just younger, I just had to mature. That’s all I really got to say about that,” he said. “I guess it was God’s plan. It wasn’t difficult. It wasn’t easy, it was just something I had to go through. It definitely made me mentally stronger. It helped. You have to be mentally strong to win this game. I’ve been through struggles and whatnot. I’ll be able to fight through any struggles in the NBA.”