As much as Darius Rice has been referred to as a basketball player blessed with size and phenomenal skills, he’s probably always been known because of the name of his uncle and former NFL great: Jerry Rice.
But he doesn’t appear to be bothered by that at all. Rather, he seems happy talking about the ex-wide receiver, who’s known as one of the greatest players to ever step onto the gridiron.
“I talk to (Jerry) all the time,” said Rice, a 208-cm forward for the National Basketball League’s Hitachi Sunrockers. “I saw him last summer. He came to Mississippi and we partied, went to my grandmother’s house. Me and him are like a close uncle-nephew relationship.”
And just like a lot of other children back when Jerry was a superstar for the San Francisco 49ers, Darius, now 31, grew up rooting for the team (and of course he didn’t like the Dallas Cowboys).
“I went to three Super Bowls,” Rice said with a grin. “When (the 49ers) beat the (Cincinnati) Bengals (in 1989), I was there. I went to when they beat the (Denver) Broncos (in ’90), and when they beat the (San Diego) Chargers (in ’95).”
Rice, a native of Jackson, Mississippi, added that he’d also go to see Jerry play when the 49ers came near his home state.
“I miss those days,” he said, smiling. “I was a young guy, I was meeting all these superstar players.”
Until he enrolled at the University of Miami, Rice was a two-sport athlete in basketball and football. In basketball, he was selected as a McDonald’s All-American in 2000, along with future NBA players like Zach Randolph and Darius Miles.
But Rice claimed that he was a better football player than a basketball player.
“I was fast, I was tall,” said Rice, who played wide receiver and free safety at Lanier High in Jackson. “I was exciting just like (Jerry). I think I use my football skills to play basketball, running and jumping stuff.”
Rice said that he quit football because he grew too tall, and focused on basketball at Miami, where he averaged 18.8 and 16.9 points as junior and senior, respectively.
After the time at Miami, Rice played in leagues all over the world, such as the United Arab Emirates, Puerto Rico, Bahrain, Uruguay and Venezuela, while he also had stints for three different clubs in the NBA Developmental League.
And Rice landed in Japan this season. Hitachi has struggled, posting a 17-27 record, fifth in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re getting better step by step as a team,” said Rice, who’s the team’s second-leading scorer (14.9 points per game) behind Jamar Smith (15.0). “I think as the season goes along, we’ve grown together. The more we stay together, the better we’ll get.”