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Many Miami Hurricane men’s basketball fans can breathe a sigh of relief now that the team’s best player is back.
Darius Rice, who led the Hurricanes in scoring in 2002-2003, announced in May his return to the team for his senior season. Rice had kept quiet for months about the topic, refusing to let his guard down when asked by reporters about his draft status. The 6’10 forward was projected as a late first round/early second round pick had he entered the draft.
Most followers of Hurricane basketball feel Rice needs one more year of seasoning and bulking up before venturing into the NBA. Next year’s team will now return a seasoned veteran to help youngsters Robert Hite, Armondo Surratt, Eric Wilkins, and Gary Hamilton develop into stars in the Big East.
Last season Rice averaged 18.7 points per game, 5.8 rebounds, and shot 36.4 percent from beyond the three-point line. He started 26 of the ‘Canes 28 games and averaged 33.4 minutes a contest.
Despite a solid season from Rice, the Hurricanes had one of their worst years in recent memory, finishing11-17 (4-12 Big East), good for the second-worst record in the conference. Miami followed that record with a first-round loss in the Big East tournament to Seton Hall.
Rice pointed to wanting to end his college career on a winning team, influence from friends and family, and talks with head coach Perry Clark as key reasons for staying in school for his senior year.
“With the help of my parents, Coach Clark and the UM coaching staff I was able to gather the necessary information needed to make a decision I am happy with,” Rice said. “That is to return to the University of Miami for my senior year. I am looking forward to next season and am excited to get back to work with my teammates.”
The highlight of Rice’s 2002-03 season took place Jan. 20 in the Convocation Center, when Rice stole an inbounds pass from Shamon Tooles of Connecticut with 3.2 seconds left in the game and hit a fade away three pointer to shock the Huskies, 77-76. Rice had a career high 43 points in the game.
“The basket was as big as the ocean for me that night,” Rice said. “I hope to have more nights like that in the future.”
At most of the Hurricanes’ games last season Rice had to perform in front of scouts of various professional teams. Despite that, Rice said he never felt any added pressure as a result.
“I honestly don’t pay attention to that stuff,” Rice said.
Rice is hopeful that his decision to stay at UM will keep the fans in the seats next season and promote more interest in the ‘Canes.
“We play for our school and our fans,” Rice said. “It’s great to be able to give them a great game and hear them cheer for us.”