PITTSBURGH — On Sunday night, Monmouth’s King Rice brought his mid-major Hawks into Pittsburgh and took down Pitt emphatically, leading by as much as 19 and weathering a comeback by the Panthers to come out on top.
After the game, Rice hit the podium to address the media and speak about the game against Pitt. However, after talking about the game for a bit, he quickly flipped the spotlight onto another person. Another player. One which Pitt fans haven’t heard about since his court hearing was pushed back two months recently.
“I also understand a couple kids were hurt, a couple guys left, they sent a guy to the pros, and then, I am going to say someone’s name, a kid made a bad mistake: Ithiel Horton,” Rice said. “I’ve known that kid since he was in ninth grade. Ninth grade. One of the nicest families, who he is as a kid. And I know what he did was wrong. You can’t do that, and all of that, but I used to be that kid. From this little town named Binghamton, and I never did anything wrong. All I was going to do was make the pros. And then one night, some stuff went down, and it changed my whole life.”
Rice went on to describe how he, similar to Horton, once made mistakes off the court as well. Back in 1990, when Rice was a senior playing at North Carolina, he was arrested after a situation occurred in which he grabbed a woman, who at the time was his girlfriend, and was quickly arrested thereafter. That was just one story, and that was just one of his multiple brushes with the law.
“Mine happened, high school thing,” he went on. “Big brawl outside, I didn’t move fast enough. Friends got arrested, I ran home. Didn’t keep my mouth shut, then I had to get arrested later. And then I went to Chapel Hill and couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Get in situations. My girlfriend hit me, I grab her, policeman saw it, cops say you’re going to jail… I grabbed her. I did. I said don’t hit me again. And I got arrested, and then I acted like a fool. If I would have just went with them, I probably would have been ok. But alcohol kicked in, I started talking crazy to them, they grabbed me, I pulled them away, then there were five or six, and I don’t do that. Alcohol was involved, I got to the police station, I called my mother, she started yelling at me, and she hung up.”
Rice also spoke about another time when he had gotten arrested, this time for driving under the influence while coaching at Illinois State, former Redbird coach, and Pitt coach Kevin Stallings bailed him out. Yet another example in which Rice had messed up, but had gotten help once again to get his life back on track.
“Just please everybody. My son called me this morning who plays at Bucknell who Ithiel played with. He said, ‘Dad, is he playing yet?’ I said, ‘Xan, what he did, you just can’t do.’ That’s what I am scared about all the time because if you make one decision like that, it changes your life. It changes your life. I am praying for that kid and his family, I am praying for the police officer that Ithiel obviously handled himself wrong with.”
After talking about how he related with those stories, Rice went on to further elaborate what happened to him after his trouble with the law. What happened to him after he was forgotten, which he says, he would never want to happen to Horton now.
“I don’t want him to go through what I went through for the next 30 years and fight alcoholism and do all of this stuff because of one bad night,” Rice said. “One bad night. He had a whole bunch of good nights for years. One bad night, and now his stuff is in January. It’s almost like we forgot about him, and he can’t come in the gym, and he can’t this. Well, that could break him all the way. That could break him. I’m from a family, my brother’s a police officer, enforcement, all kinds of stuff, so I know you can’t do that. But he’s a kid. That made a terrible mistake on one night. How long do we have to have him be punished? Can somehow he get moved forward? If he’s got to go to weekends or whatever it is just to resolve it so this kid can be a kid again.”
“My life went like that. Then from 18, 19, to 27, I was lost. I’m lucky I’m still here as much as I was drinking and the stuff I was doing. I have a great wife, Coach Smith stayed with me, everybody on my team helped me, all my friends supported me when I stopped drinking, and now it’s 25 years later, and there was good stuff in that young kid that kept blowing it. I needed Dean Smith. Right now, Ithiel might need all of us. He needs the school, he needs the AD, he needs Jeff, he needs the fans, and he needs to get to the police officer and really try to show that family and that man that he’s not that person. This probably wasn’t my place to say but I know that kid and my son is hurting because he’s hurting, so I do however I do.”
Since his playing days concluded, Rice has defeated the adversity that he spoke of and built a successful coaching career that has included stops at Oregon, Illinois State, Providence, and Monmouth. Now in his tenth year as the head coach of the Hawks, Rice has won over 160 games and has added three MAAC Coach of the Year awards to his resumé as well. While it sounds like he turned it all around very quickly, that certainly took time and lots, lots of help.
“Once that trouble came, all of a sudden, I was a drinker. Now, I’m 25 years without a drink. Now, I come into Pittsburgh and we win games. Now, I’ve been a head coach for ten years. Because Dean Smith didn’t say, ‘He’s done.’ I did the same mistake. I fought the police too, after I got accused of fighting my girlfriend. Because I was scared and I didn’t think I was wrong. So, I did it too, and I got whooped like I was supposed to get whooped. But Dean Smith stood with me. He stood with me the whole time. He kept saying, ‘King that’s not the kid you are. You’re this kid from Binghamton with both parents, why are you doing this?’ So, I just ask everybody here, just to step back for a second and try to remember he’s a kid. Let’s look at his whole body of work and not just that one night. I’m not making small talk on that one night. You’ve got to pay for that. Ok. But I still don’t believe your whole life should get changed because you made a bad choice on one night.”