Road less traveled could lead Rice to NBA

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

—Robert Frost

This is a story about a boy trying to become a man, doing seemingly everything in his power to disrupt and delay the process, and then facing two roads.

But Glen Rice, Jr. won’t have to wait ages and ages to tell his story about the road he chose, the less traveled road he hopes will make all the difference in his career, and his life. He’ll have a rapt audience when he shows up at the NBA’s Chicago Pre-Draft camp this week.

The story begins in earnest on March 13, 2012, when Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory kicked Rice off the team after an incident at an Atlanta nightclub involving two other men and that most volatile of combinations, alcohol and guns. Rice was charged with permitting unlawful operation, a minor offense compared to the DUI and discharging a firearm charges his friends received, but it was strike three for Rice at Georgia Tech.

Rice a 6-6 swingman as troubled as he was talented, had begun his junior year under suspension from Gregory, played well enough after being reinstated to lead the Yellow Jackets in scoring, rebounding and steals, then got suspended again in February, never to return.

Rice’s father Glen, Sr., who won a national championship at Michigan and an NBA title with the Lakers, remembers the day he got the call from his son.

“I’m not going to lie,” Rice, Sr. said. “You’re upset. But at the same time, you’re not going to turn your back on your son. I had told him several times, look, the road you’re going down, it’s the wrong way. Some of the things you’re doing, that’s not going to help you in life. It’s not going to help you get to the NBA. People don’t want to deal with something like that.”

After Rice, Jr.’s scorched-earth career at Georgia Tech—which included a five-game benching during his sophomore year under then-coach Paul Hewitt—a return to college basketball wasn’t likely. And besides, if Rice, Jr. had wanted to transfer he would have had to sit out a year, not a desirable option.

The real shame of what Rice, Jr. had allowed to happen to himself was that he has next-level talent. Had he tossed away any chance he may have had at playing in the NBA, and just as important, salvaging his integrity?

For help Rice, Sr. turned to his agent, Jeff Wechsler, whose company, 24/7 Sports Management, has developed a reputation for taking care of its clients well after their playing days are over and represents Kyrie Irving and Harrison Barnes, two of the NBA’s brightest young stars.

Wechsler offered what seemed to father and son like a radical option—the NBA Development League.

“We sat down and talked about what Glen, Jr.’s goals were,” Wechsler said. “His goal was to play in the NBA. So for him to transfer and sit out another season in college didn’t make a whole lot of sense. My suggestion was the D League, where he could play and compete on a professional level and show he was mature enough to deal with the rigors of pro basketball in a much different environment.

“In the D League, you’re not getting paid what you could make in other pro basketball leagues. The lifestyle, the travel … it’s hard on you. It’s demanding. You have to be mentally prepared to be able to handle something like that. And then be prepared to work hard in practice and be a professional and deal with the fact you may not see a lot of playing time early.”

Rice, Sr. wasn’t so sure at first.

“I’m old school,” he said. “And for me, coming up, one of the options you always heard about was playing overseas. When the D League came into the picture, it’s not that we were against it. But I knew that road would be a lot harder to travel.

“As a basketball player, skill wise, I knew Glen could handle it. My biggest concern was that it would be real easy to get discouraged or lose focus, especially when you’re not playing.”

Rice, Jr. was chosen in the fourth round of the D League draft by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. But minutes would be hard for Rice to come by on a team that already had Terrence Jones, Royce White, Andrew Goudelock and other more experience players.

Rice started out at the bottom of the Vipers’ roster and was deactivated and reactivated during the course of the season.

“He did a great job of having patience,” Vipers coach Nick Nurse said. “We told him that he would eventually get a chance [because of NBA call-ups] if he just stayed patient and worked.”

That wasn’t easy.

“It was frustrating in the beginning,” Rice, Jr. said. “Any basketball player, no matter how good, wants to be on the floor. Not getting a chance to play was really frustrating, but it’s also humbling, and it makes you look back on things you’ve done in your life. For me, it helped me mature, and it made me mentally strong.”

Once the player personnel movement that Nurse talked about began happening, Rice was elevated a few notches in the Vipers’ rotation. Through the first 22 games he played just 147 minutes. But on Feb. 4, Nurse gave Rice his first start. It was as auspicious debut.

Knocking down 6 of 10 3-pointers, Rice scored 35 points. He also grabbed 15 rebounds. More important, the confidence that had ebbed during his long months of little or no playing time soared.

“It was an amazing feeling,” Rice said. “Once I got out there, once I finally got my chance, I just wanted to do well. I needed to know that the hard work I’d put in had paid off. We had lost our go-to guy Andrew Goudlock [signed by the Lakers]. A couple of us knew we had to step up and take a bigger role.”

Even Rice couldn’t have imagined how big a role he would play, and what it would eventually mean. In his final 10 games, during which the Vipers won the D League championship, Rice, who played every position from point guard to power forward, averaged 39.2 minutes, 25.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 steals, 2.0 blocks and shot 47 percent from the field and 36 percent from the 3-point line.

Former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, now at George Mason, kept up with Rice during the early part of the D League season but lost track after a month or two. That’s why he was surprised to get a call from an NBA scout in March.

“He said, ‘You’re not aware of what’s going on, are you?’ ” Hewitt said. “So I looked up Glen’s stats. He’d turned it on.”

Yes, he had turned in on, and in the process Rice, Jr., who’s eligible for the June Draft, didn’t just revive his NBA chances. He turned himself into a commodity.

Jeff Wechsler, who now represents the younger Rice, has been taking a growing number of phone calls inquiring about his newest client.

“I’m getting teams at the end of the lottery to the end of the first round calling and wanting his schedule,” Wechsler said.

There’s a lot to like about Rice. He’s got requisite NBA two-guard size and length, to go with explosiveness and a reliable 3-point stroke. That combination is rare enough, but when Rice’s passing skills and rebounding ability are mixed in, along with his continued improvement defensively, it’s easy to see why Wechsler’s phone has been ringing.

“No question he’s an NBA player,” said Hewitt, who sent 10 of his Georgia Tech players to the league. “He’s extremely talented, and got a great IQ for the game.”

“When you can shoot like him,” Nurse said. “That translates to the NBA.”

Robin Pound, a pioneering college and NBA strength and conditioning coach, has been grilling Rice for the last two weeks trying to prepare him for Chicago. Pound is a no-nonsense type who calls things as he sees them, an exacting critic who’s the perfect mentor for Rice. Despite the small sample size he’s had to evaluate, Pound is sold on Rice’s ability.

“It’s been a crash course for the kid,” said Pound, who has worked with NBA superstars and edited the books Condition the NBA Way and NBA Power Conditioning. “We’re trying to cram as much in as possible as far as preparation. We don’t have much time, and it’s not fair for me to compare him to other players. But I’ll say this: The kid can score. Mid-range, post-up, transition, finish at the hoop, 3-pointer. As part of his preparation, we’re working on all those things.

“To me, the more diverse you are, the more valuable you are. I haven’t seen anything Glen sucks at.”

No one who has been around Rice, Jr. for any length of time has been concerned about the skills part of the equation. But this week, when he begins interviews with NBA teams and the media, everyone will want to know about how the road less traveled has distanced him from his rocky college career.

“Iman Shumpert [a former Georgia Tech teammate of Rice’s now with the Knicks] called me the other night,” Hewitt said. “He said he was talking to Glen, and Glen told him he’d finally figured out just to keep his mouth shut and play. Iman said, ‘why couldn’t you have figured that out in college?’ ”

For Rice, it’s a case of better late than never.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” Rice said. “I made mine. The most important thing was to own it, accept it, and try to learn from it. Which I have. I’m ready to move forward. Whoever said ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ knew what they were talking about. I feel like that’s what’s happened to me.”

“My son took a hard road,” Rice, Sr. said. “But going into the D League, it was my hope and belief he was going to show everybody who the real Glen Rice, Jr. was. That he was no longer the immature guy who had made bad decisions.

“The D League is not easy. I’d had conversations with Glen and had seen him sitting on the bench. As a former player, I question whether I could have done that. But Glen did it, and now he’s got a chance to live up to everything I’d hoped for him. I couldn’t be prouder of my son.”