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November 19, 2019

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

ray brewer:

Dave Rice learned his craft while part of UNLV’s legendary teams

Former reserve earned his chance to be UNLV’s next head coach, will prove to be the right fit

Dave Rice file photos

Las Vegas Sun file

UNLV assistant coaches Glynn Cyprien, left, and Dave Rice confer during a team practice in the North Gym Tuesday, October 19, 1999.

Dave Rice

UNLV assistant coach Dave Rice yells to Rebel players as they take on Georgetown at the Thomas & Mack Center Sunday, November 28, 1999. The Rebels defeated the Hoyas 85-69. Launch slideshow »

KSNV: Rebels' New Mens Basketball Coach

KSNV coverage of the new men's basketball coach at UNLV.

Dave Rice seemed destined to be in this position.

As a reserve on the UNLV basketball team in the early 1990s during the program’s consecutive Final Four appearances, Rice occupied the same seat on game days: sandwiched between assistant coaches near the front of the Rebels’ bench.

His playing time was limited to a few minutes at the tail end of blowouts, giving him plenty of opportunities to grasp what would eventually become his craft. He observed and took several mental notes, learning how to manage a team’s diverse personalities and developing several coaching philosophies.

Now, he’ll bring that wisdom back to the same bench at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Rice will be announced Monday as the program’s next head coach, landing the only job he coveted — in Las Vegas at his alma mater — with plans of bringing the Rebels back to their past successes.

Hiring the 42-year-old Rice was a no-brainer decision.

He’s detailed in designing a game plan, will put the ‘Runnin’ back into the program with his up-tempo offense and will be able to sell the area’s best high school players on staying home. He’s the type of guy you would want to grab a beer with after work, speak to your church group or read to a classroom of third-graders.

He’s not flashy, but someone who is sincere and dedicated — the perfect fit for the most high profile athletic job in Las Vegas. His passion for the program will become contagious with locals, recruits and everyone else he comes into contact with.

It’s a passion he was forced to disguise the past seven years. Rice spent 11 years as a UNLV assistant until he wasn’t retained when former coach Lon Kruger was hired in 2004. After one year at Utah State, Rice spent the last six seasons at rival BYU, including the last three as associate head coach.

It was surely painful for Rice to be on the BYU bench for those heated games against UNLV. But it was necessary to give Rice, who was the Cougars’ recruiting coordinator and mastermind behind their high-powered offense, the experience to be qualified to return home.

After all, this is where his heart is.

The Rebels were the toast of college basketball during his playing days, winning the 1990 national title and going undefeated the following year before losing to Duke in the Final Four. Several longtime locals can recall the excitement around town during those glory years. Rice lived it.

And he’s dedicated to bringing those magical times back.

With Rice calling the shots and scheming the attack, BYU’s offense averaged more than 80 points per game this winter. At UNLV, it’s no stretch to assume the Rebels will also be lighting up the scoreboard, similar to Rice’s playing days.

To do this, however, Rice will need to hit the recruiting trail and upgrade the program’s talent. While the current roster has several proven players — seniors-to-be Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield, and rising junior Anthony Marshall provide a solid foundation and make the Rebels a league favorite next year — it lacks someone who can take over a game or consistently create his own shot.

Rice, who will be a head coach for the first time, can answer doubters about his recruiting ability this spring. Perennial Nevada power Bishop Gorman High, where his brother, Grant, is the coach, has a loaded junior class with several players who could be program changers.

However, signing a Gorman player isn’t a guarantee just because his brother is the private school’s coach. Rice will have to overcome the same problems as Kruger on the recruiting trail — the Rebels don’t play in a major conference, they won’t be seen much on national television and they’ve only been to the second round of the tournament twice since 1991.

But some of the same problems existed when Rice was a player and the Rebels were still a national power. They are stories he’ll surely share with recruits — moments that helped the former reserve guard become the program’s head coach.

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