Glen Rice Jr. was taking jumpers before the Washington Wizards took on the Chicago Bulls in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday when Bulls legend Scottie Pippen called him over for a chat. As Pippen spoke to him, Rice wiped the sweat from his brow with his shooting shirt, smiled and nodded. Then he went back to shooting again.
Rice’s brief encounter with the Hall of Famer is sort of the norm for someone who has been shadowing his father — former NBA star Glen Rice Sr. — through NBA arenas almost from the time he started walking. Rice knows Pippen as a great player but also a good friend of his dad, and he’s rarely star-struck.
When it comes to his burgeoning NBA career, Rice has taken a similar approach. The usual rookie awe and intimidation have been replaced by an overwhelming sense that he belongs.
“It’s just basketball,” Rice, 22, said with a shrug when asked if he felt any nerves about playing in the league. “You can only do what you can do. The more you stress about it, the worse off you’ll be. I think it’s just my mentality. You don’t want to get overworked about anything.”
Rice displayed that aggressive style at the end of his preseason debut against Brooklyn last week, when the Wizards trailed by two at the end of the regulation and he refused to just sit back and wait to see if Eric Maynor was going to make the tying shot. Maynor threw up an off-balanced, one-handed toss-up and Rice darted down the lane, lifted his hands high above his head and threw down a two-handed dunk to force overtime.
“I was thinking we just need a bucket,” Rice said of the play. “I had the ball, it just happened to bounce right in my hand, basically.”
Rice didn’t shoot very well in his first two preseason games, but he scored in double figures both times, averaging 11 points. He attacked the basket to get to the foul line and took the second-most free throw attempts of any player on the team with 11. He also has a penchant for timely baskets: He followed up his tip-in dunk against the Nets by making a go-ahead three-pointer late in the game against Chicago. Pressure situations don’t send him into hiding.
“He’s fearless,” Coach Randy Wittman said about Rice. “He’s a very confident kid and doesn’t shy away. You always want that in your players. If you make a mistake, make it with aggression, something of that nature, rather than being shied away and he’s showed that.”
Wittman has urged Rice to get better on the defensive end and to approach practices and games with same focus and intensity. Rice was known to drift in college at Georgia Tech and learned when to pick his spots while playing last season for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League, but he has quickly learned that approach won’t work in the NBA.
“Everybody is good. There is no time to take possessions off, you just got to get to your spots every possession,” said Rice, who is only four months younger than Wizards point guard John Wall. “In other leagues, sometimes you can get away with not being at the right place at the right time. Out here, they take advantage of everything.”
The Wizards were one of the least efficient offensive teams last season and don’t have many players on the roster, especially off the bench, who can be looked upon to provide consistent scoring. And with fellow rookie Otto Porter Jr. currently sidelined with a strained right hip flexor, Rice is getting more of an opportunity to contribute in the preseason.
“Glen’s been great,” Bradley Beal said. “He’s playing within himself. He’s not rattled. He’s not forcing the issue. He’s doing terrific. His offense is slow and smooth, and he’s efficient. As long as he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s definitely going to get minutes.”
On Tuesday, Rice got a chance to play against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, a star-studded team with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and had eight points, two rebounds and a blocked shot in Washington’s 100-82 preseason victory. Since his father started his career in Miami, Rice grew up pulling for the Heat, even after his dad was traded to other locations.
“I always had two teams,” Rice said, while adding that he “used to” be a fan of the Heat. Now, he has his own career and own legacy that he’s looking to build. And he’s cherishing each step along the way.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “Summer league was good. You thought that was a good feeling, now it’s preseason, the next step up because you’re with the team now. Just be able to be one step closer to being an important part of the team.
“However Coach wants to use me, I’m here,” Rice said. “It’s just learning experience. Shots might not fall sometimes. Calls might not go your way. All I can do is just get out there when my time is allocated, just work hard.”
Note: Beal had a game-high 29 points in the win over Miami, with all of them coming in the first three quarters.