Glen Rice Jr. once was a high school player teeming with hope. The star guard from Walton High was a highly recruited player with his pick of colleges. In July 2008, the son of the former NBA player called then-Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt to tell him he wanted to be a Yellow Jacket.
“It’s close to home, great academics, and I really feel like I could be part of something great along with the rest of the [incoming class],” Rice told the AJC after making his decision.
Over the next 3 1/2 years, Rice’s aspirations failed to materialize. They collapsed completely Tuesday, when coach Brian Gregory dismissed him from the team after a season in which Rice had difficulty adapting to his new coach’s style on and off the court. After being suspended from the team Feb. 17, Rice missed the final six games of the season. A charge stemming from a late-night shooting last week may not even have been necessary for Gregory to cut ties with the Jackets’ leading scorer and rebounder.
“There are certain standards that have to be met both on and off the court, and there has to be accountability when those standards aren’t met,” Gregory said in a statement released Tuesday. “I’m disappointed that we have to take this action.”
Gregory was not made available for further comment. Rice could not be reached. A voicemail message to his mother, Tracey Starwood, was not returned.
There were highlights. In his first career start as a freshman, Rice scored Tech’s first basket of the game on a dunk to initiate a 17-point thrashing of North Carolina in front of a sold-out Alexander Memorial Coliseum crowd. As a sophomore, he scorched the Tar Heels for 24 points in another home win and 2 1/2 weeks later tossed in a career-high 28 points in a loss to Miami.
This season, another 28-point barrage led a near upset of Duke. At Clemson with Tech trailing by 16 with 3:47 to play, Rice piled up 15 points in the final 3:27 in an improbable rescue attempt that fell short by two points.
Told his hot streak, including three 3-pointers, was reminiscent of Reggie Miller, Rice replied, “I wouldn’t go that far. Don’t insult Reggie Miller like that.”
Clashes with Hewitt and then Gregory overshadowed his exploits. At the end of the 2010-11 season, even as he was coaching for his job, Hewitt took away Rice’s starting position for the last five games of the season as a disciplinary measure.
At the start of the school year, Gregory held hope for a turnaround.
“Unbelievable job in the classroom this summer, and [he is] starting to realize as a junior there’s an accountability and a responsibility factor that goes with being an upperclassman,” Gregory said in late August.
Gregory holds bedrock beliefs in matters such as attending class, treating others with respect and hustling on the court that he terms “non-negotiables,” and Rice had trouble meeting those standards. He was suspended for the first three games of the season for a breach of team rules. Near the end of the season, Gregory acted again, suspending him indefinitely after the loss to Wake Forest Feb. 15.
In that game, with the Jackets trying to rally, Gregory sat his most talented player on the bench for the final 2:42 after two ill-advised plays led to turnovers and Deacons baskets. It would turn out to be his last game for the Jackets.
Early Thursday, according to police, Rice was a passenger in a Cadillac Escalade driven by graduate assistant London Warren that was leaving a Midtown nightclub near campus. The car was pulled over after a shot was fired from the car by another passenger.
Warren, described by police as glassy-eyed and smelling of alcohol, was charged with DUI/less safe, typically given when a driver suspected of being inebriated refuses a breath test. Rice was charged with permitting unlawful operation of a vehicle.
Noah Pines, an Atlanta criminal defense attorney, said that he could not recall charging anyone with that crime in eight years as a prosecutor or seeing it in 10 years as a defense attorney.
“It’s an unusual charge,” he said.
From a distance, Rice’s slide confounded Norman Parker, Rice’s coach for three years with the Georgia Stars AAU team. Parker described Rice as a player who always needed to know why he had to run a certain offense or play a certain way, but complied once he understood. Parker said Rice was a team leader who never gave him trouble.
On Tuesday, Parker said he had been in touch with Rice’s mother and had reached out to Rice but had yet to hear back. He called Rice “a good young man” who has acted out of character.
Said Parker, “Sometimes, these young men have to learn hard lessons.”
Parker’s AAU team is again loaded with players holding the same dreams Rice carried in the summer of 2008. Parker said he will tell his players about his former star guard turned cautionary tale.
Said Parker, “There’s penalties for making mistakes that will cost you everything.”
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