Whether it was expected or not - and it seems locally at least it was the latter - Dave Rice is going back to Las Vegas. The long time assistant coach and most recently associate head coach at BYU has accepted the head coaching position at his alma mater UNLV where he is expected to be officially announced later today.
It really shouldn't come as a surprise that Rice's name was heavily in the mix for the position - after all he was a member of the 1990 national championship and 1991 Final Four teams at UNLV and served as an assistant with the Rebels for a decade. The question that undoubtedly will be asked frequently in the upcoming weeks and months around Sin City however is does he have enough experience? For all of the time he has spent on the benches of successful programs, learning from talented coaches, Rice has never been a head coach. Many believed former Sacramento Kings and New Mexico head coach Reggie Theus was in line to be hired for the position, certainly his playing day ties to the school had him on the programs short list of candidates.
Is Rice's hire simply a byproduct of BYU's tremendously successful season? Is he riding Jimmer Fredette's coattails? To many in the Theus camp it might certainly seem that way. How else to describe the hire of a coach unproven when it comes to running a program, for a school that has consistently been in contention for NCAA Tournament berths in recent years? Those in the know however would point to the respect that Rice has in the coaching community along with his inherent strength as an in-game strategist.
Regardless of what side of the debate you stand, Rice's first year in Vegas will be one of the most followed story lines in the Mountain West Conference this November.
Andy Katz of ESPN.com: "UNLV has reached back to its greatest era in hiring Dave Rice, a former Jerry Tarkanian player. Rice, a BYU associate head coach, is the first former Tarkanian player to be hired by the Rebels since Tarkanian was forced out in the early 1990s. Rice confirmed the hire to ESPN.com early Sunday before UNLV issued a press release on Rice's hiring and announced, pending board of regent approval, a news conference Monday. Dave Rice, far right, was a part of UNLV's glory years, playing on the Rebels' 1990 national title team. Rice replaces Lon Kruger, who left to coach Oklahoma after leading the Rebels to four NCAA tournaments in seven seasons, including a Sweet 16 in 2007. Rice was on the 1990 UNLV national champion team as well as the 1991 national semifinalist. He also worked under Tarkanian from 1991-92 in his final season and then 10 years from 1994 to 2004 under a number of head coaches that passed through UNLV in the turbulent post-Tark era. Tarkanian had publicly endorsed the other UNLV finalist, his former player Reggie Theus from the 1970s, who had been a head coach at New Mexico State and with the Sacramento Kings. But UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood went with Rice instead of Theus, who is currently an assistant with the Minnesota Timberwolves."
Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune: "Rice has been at BYU the past six years, including the last three as associate head coach under head coach Dave Rose. So, a few days after signing a new five-year contract to remain BYU's coach, Rose now has to find himself a new assistant coach. Who will that be? Names are already starting to surface. One is former Wyoming coach Heath Schroyer, a former BYU assistant, who was seen talking to Rose over the weekend in Los Angeles at the John R. Wooden Awards Gala at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. It is no secret that Schroyer and Rose remain good friends from their days working together as assistant coaches under Steve Cleveland at BYU. Rice's departure leaves Rose with two young assistants, Terry Nashif and Tim LaComb. Rice primarily directed BYU's offense, and was its recruiting coordinator. Current BYU director of basketball operations Mike Hall could get a promotion, as LaComb did last summer when John Wardenburg left the program. Former Cougar Austin Ainge, now head coach of the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Developmental League, might be a possibility. Locally, Lone Peak High coach Quincy Lewis, who has sent several players to BYU in recent years, could also be a candidate."
Jerry Tarkanian of the Las Vegas Sun: "Whenever I would attend a game or practice over the years where Dave Rice was coaching, he would always make it a point to come over and talk to me. He's just a quality guy. He never hesitated going out of his way to acknowledge me, and always let me know how much he respected me. Nobody has seen him before as a head coach, so I don't think it would be fair to say how he'll be as UNLV's basketball coach. I can tell you he's a smart guy and a hard worker. He'll put in the time for that program to be successful. I called Dave today to congratulate him and I will be at the press conference tomorrow to support him. He's a Rebel and deserves my support. Even though I wanted Reggie Theus to get the job, Dave still called me during the interview process to talk. He didn't ask for my support, he just wanted to let me know how much he appreciated everything I did for him. That shows what type of man Dave Rice is. There were no bad feelings about me supporting Reggie."
Sean Brennan of the New York Daily News: "Now that Louisville assistant coach Steve Masiello is ready to take the reins at Manhattan, he also seems to be settlled on who will comprise his new coaching staff. Manhattan assistant coach Scott Padgett will be retained by Masiello which should come as no surprise as the two are best friends and former roomates during their days at Kentucky. Another former member of Barry Rohrssen's staff is also said to be sticking around as Jason Wingate will return next season. Masiello is also expected to bring in a fresh face with him to his new gig as Cincinnati assistant coach Matt Grady is expected to join his staff. Grady is a 2001 graduate of St. Joe's (Pa.) and played his high school ball at St. Joseph's H.S. in Metuchen, N.J. where he was a teammate of former Duke star Jay Williams. Grady, who spent the past season at Cincy, his first with the Bearcats, also served as an assistant coach at Murray State under current Cincinnati coach Mich Cronin. Before that Grady also made stops at Louisville, where he served as a graduate assistant coach for two seasons under Rick Pitino and spent another season as a student assistant at St. Joe's under Phil Martelli."
Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle: "For a second straight season, Wichita State's men's basketball will field a roster with five seniors. It worked out great in 2010-11, when that experience helped the Shockers go 29-8 and win the National Invitation Tournament. Sounds greedy, but experience could be an even bigger aid next season. WSU will be loaded with experienced guards, including seniors Toure Murry, David Kyles and Joe Ragland and junior Demetric Williams. That's a switch from this season, when four scholarship seniors played in the front-court. It's better to let experienced guards guide the big men, instead of the other way around. Many of WSU's growing pains this season came from guards getting comfortable with their roles. If late March is an indication, that shouldn't be a problem next season. All four played well in the NIT, either showing more consistency or pulling out of slumps. Their chemistry will get more time to develop if, as expected, WSU takes a foreign trip this summer. The play of Murry, Kyles, Ragland and Williams might turn out to be one of the top benefits of the five NIT games. Murry rebounded from a late-season collapse. Kyles shot 38.9 percent from three-point range and tied his season-high with four assists against Virginia Tech. Ragland and Williams ran the team efficiently. "They seem to be understanding what we're trying to do, and there's a very nice flow to our offense," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said during the NIT. "They're all doing a good job with that.'"
Todd Hefferman of The Southern: "Anthony Stewart will not be the only Cowboy headed to Carbondale this year. Desmar Jackson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard that led Wyoming's men's basketball team in scoring last season, will join Stewart in Carbondale following the end of the school year, according to his old high school coach. Stewart left the Cowboys to become Southern Illinois University's new men's basketball assistant coach shortly after the Cowboys fired head coach Heath Schroyer. Stewart replaced Marcus Belcher, whose contract was not renewed by SIU. Jackson, who got the release from his scholarship Friday from the school, was pursued by Cleveland State, Kent State, Marshall and Indiana State, according to his old high school coach, Steve Arnold. He will have to sit out the 2011-12 season per NCAA rules, but will have two years of eligibility beginning in 2012-13. "This was a kid who was heavily recruited out of high school. Once he decided to leave Wyoming, the phone was kind of ringing off the hook the last few days," Arnold said. "Des wants an opportunity to play with two years of eligibility, and of having an opportunity to make the NCAA tournament. He believes that SIU has that capability, and that's why he's going to be there."