PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice returned to the court Saturday after a three-game, 16-day suspension for inappropriate behavior and language.
Rice held a walk-through session with his team in his first work since he was suspended without pay and fined $50,000 on Dec. 13 for a violation of athletic department policy.
“I may not be perfect, but I know I’m going to change and improve,” Rice said. “I brought this on myself. For 21 years, I’ve asked my players to change and improve. Now I have this opportunity to do that myself. Whether it is the teaching methods, the discipline, I’ve thought a lot about the way I do things. I’m going to develop the things I need to work on and make this a positive.”
Rutgers (9-2) went 3-0 under associate head coach David Cox, capped by a 68-56 win over Rider on Friday. Rice will be back on the bench Wednesday when Rutgers opens Big East Conference play at No. 9 Syracuse.
During the suspension, Rice attended his 14-year-old son’s basketball games and shopped for Christmas presents with his wife, Kerry, for the first time during a basketball season. The worst moment was when his family was getting ready to attend a game against UAB on Dec. 16.
“They wanted to be there for the team and I couldn’t go,” he said.
Rice is in his third season at Rutgers after coming over from Robert Morris, where he led the school to two straight NCAA tournaments in 2009 and 2010.
“I hate putting a stain on Rutgers basketball and Rutgers University,” Rice said. “I’m going to apologize to as many people as I can. I want them to understand that I am going to change and they are going to be proud of the way I behave.
“I’m going to have the same passion, energy and intensity, because that’s who I am. It’s the same thing with recruits. I tell them one thing I do is make them uncomfortable. If you’re a good shooter, I want to make you a great shooter.”
Senior forward Austin Johnson didn’t notice anything different about his coach.
“I think anybody who is accountable for their actions deserves a second chance,” Johnson said. “He did what he did and now we’re just happy to have him back on the sidelines. He’s the same Mike Rice. That’s our guy. He’s intense and emotional, and that’s the guy we came here to play for.”
Rice said one of his regrets was that his suspension took the spotlight away from the players, especially sophomore guard Myles Mack, who is shooting 58.9 percent from the floor in averaging 14.5 points.
“He’s the same guy to me,” Mack said. “I love him for who he is and what he’s done for the program. It feels the same to me. We followed the same fundamentals that he taught us while he was gone.”
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