Rice ready to accept punishment
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP)
Rice and teammate Kurt Alexander were arrested for shoplifting at an area sporting goods store on Aug. 31 and immediately were suspended from the team. They have since been reinstated, but coach Mark Phelps said Monday he was still weighing further disciplinary action for them, which likely will involve missing some early games.
''Whatever consequences they have for us, I'm ready to accept it and be in a better place,'' Rice said Monday at Drake's media day.
If Rice does miss some games, the sooner he gets back, the better for the Bulldogs because they need him if they are to become relevant again in the Missouri Valley Conference.
As a freshman last season, the muscular, 6-foot-4, 235-pound Rice, who looks more like a football linebacker than a basketball player, led the team in scoring (13.8 ppg), rebounding (4.8), steals and blocks. He broke the school's freshman scoring record, ranked sixth in the league among all scorers and averaged 20.5 points against four professional teams when the Bulldogs visited Australia and New Zealand in August.
''He's poised to have a very good year,'' Phelps said. ''I think he can improve in a lot of areas.''
Whatever time Rice misses, Phelps knows he will be out there eventually. He can't say the same for 6-11 junior center Seth VanDeest, who had surgery in early August for a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
VanDeest is expected to be out four to six months. Four months would mean he would be available for the Nov. 12 opener against Upper Iowa. Six months would put his return in mid-January and if that's the case, Phelps said he might keep him out the rest of the season to preserve two full years of eligibility.
''I would probably say safely he won't be ready at the beginning of the season,'' Phelps said. ''Will he play this year? Honestly, that's a question we don't know the answer to right now.
''He's working like a madman rehabbing. The shoulder's sore every day. That's a good sign. That means he's rehabbing really, really hard.''
If it turns out that VanDeest plays a significant portion of the season and Rice remains focused and out of further trouble, this should be the best team in Phelps' four seasons at Drake.
A former Arizona State assistant, Phelps took over when Keno Davis bolted for Providence after guiding the Bulldogs to stunning a 28-5 record and the MVC regular-season and tournament championships. Drake went 17-16 in Phelps' first season with some Davis holdovers, then slumped to 14-19 and 13-18 while he sought to rebuild with young players. All three of his teams have gone 7-11 in the Valley, a sharp downturn from the 15-3 mark in 2007-08.
He has all but one player back from last season and for the first time in his tenure, Phelps has more upperclassmen than underclassmen.
''I think the guys feel good about entering this year,'' Phelps said. ''Guys have been through the conference a couple of times now. So we're excited and think we can have a pretty good year.''
A lot will depend on how much Rice has improved his game and how the point guard position shakes out.
''I think we can be better than we were last year,'' Rice said. ''If we come out and work hard every day ... if you put the work in, you're going to get a good outcome.''
Rice worked on his ballhandling during the offseason and he needs to improve his shooting. He made just 29.5 percent of his 3-point shots last season and shot only 40 percent overall. Phelps also would like to see Rice improve his defense.
''I feel like my teammates trust me a lot,'' Rice said. ''I won't say it all rides on me. But whatever they give me, whatever they expect me to do, I'm going to do it.''