Before speaking at his postgame press conference, Monmouth coach King Rice took a moment to gather himself. Tears filled his eyes, he took a deep breath, and when he let out his first few words, his voice cracked.
Rice, a guard at North Carolina from 1987 to 1991, started by thanking UNC coach Roy Williams, who recruited him out of high school. At that time, Williams was an assistant coach under Dean Smith.
“He treats me like I’m one of his sons,” Rice said of Williams. “He always tries to take care of me since I was a kid. I’m the luckiest guy that in 1987, Coach Smith gave me a scholarship and it’s made me have a great, great, great life.”
Wednesday was Rice’s second time coaching against UNC since becoming Monmouth’s head coach in 2011. The Tar Heels won, 102-74. His team also lost to the Tar Heels in 2012.
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“When I first became the head coach, Coach Williams was the first guy to tell me that he was going to play me. And he was going to give us a big check and he was going to help our program,” Rice said. “And he did that and then he played us again this year. So in six years, North Carolina has helped Monmouth a whole bunch, with a lot of money that goes to all kinds of athletes, and it helps our whole school.”
Monmouth’s three technical fouls early in the second half – called less than one minute apart – dug Rice’s team a hole that was too big to climb out of.
“North Carolina is too good of a team for you to not keep your cool,” he said.
Rice talked about how proud he was to have played at UNC (12-2) and seemed bothered that the crowd cheered after the Tar Heels scored 100 points. When UNC scores 100 points in a game, fans can get two sausage biscuits for $1 at Bojangles.
“I’m a proud, proud, proud Carolina man,” Rice said. “It should never ever, ever, ever be more exciting to get biscuits than to win a basketball game.”
While at UNC, Rice was one of the school’s best guards. Throughout his career there, UNC made it to at least the Sweet 16 every year.
In 1991, he helped lead the Tar Heels to the Final Four, along with teammates Hubert Davis, Rick Fox and Pete Chilcutt. When he finished his career there, he was third on the UNC all-time list in assists with 629.
“I’m thankful to all the coaches,” Rice said. “They took a hard-headed young kid and turned him into a man. It took me a lot longer than some of the people. So tonight, I can take losing.”
Since becoming head coach at Monmouth (10-3), Rice has helped turn the program around. Last season, the Hawks finished 28-8, and lost in the second round of the NIT tournament. His team beat UCLA, USC (Southern Cal), Georgetown and Notre Dame, which was ranked No. 17 at the time.
I’m a proud, proud, proud Carolina man. “It should never ever, ever, ever be more exciting to get biscuits than to win a basketball game.
He also won Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) coach of the year honors. Monmouth is a favorite to win the conference this year and make the NCAA tournament.
“I’m extremely proud of him,” Williams said.
For Williams, the win over Monmouth was bittersweet, and more so bitter than the sweet. He still remembers recruiting the guard out of New York, who he says was “one of the toughest kids he had been around.”
“My first year back here, he was in town, Hubert Davis was in town, and they came and played pickup with our guys almost every day,” Williams said. “Practice started and they played against our guys and they set the tone for my entire 14 years here.”
Williams said he doesn’t enjoy coaching against his former players.
“But they want to do it because it helps their program and or they want the money for their program,” he said. “I think I’ll always give King more money than I’ll give anybody else.”