Darius Rice never imagined when he arrived at the University of Miami in 2000 as a 6-10 highly touted McDonald’s All-American that 14 years later he would be toiling in relative obscurity, traipsing the world’s gyms for a paycheck, still awaiting his dream call from the NBA.
The former Hurricane star has been to preseason training camps with the Heat, Cavaliers, Blazers, Spurs, Nets, Mavericks and, most recently, the Grizzlies last summer. He has gotten close to making a roster. Really close.
But no team has been willing to sign the sharpshooting nephew of NFL great Jerry Rice, so he has taken his jump shot to China, Italy, the Philippines, Uruguay, Poland, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Hungary, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Japan and Israel.
Rice, 32, is headed to Macedonia on Tuesday to play for a team called Karpos Sokoli.
The highlights of his pro career so far include averaging 33 points and 10 rebounds in the Philippine league for the Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants and scoring a playoff-record 52 points, including 11 three-pointers, for the Dakota Wizards in the 2007 NBA Developmental League championship game.
David Joerger was the coach of that team and now coaches the Memphis Grizzlies, so Rice hopes maybe that connection will pay off.
Rice was back on the UM campus Saturday for the Hurricanes game against Virginia, his first time at BankUnited Center since leaving the school in 2004. He was honored during the game for his selection to the 2015 ACC Legends class (although he was a three-time All-Big East player and never played in the ACC).
He got nostalgic walking into the arena and was flooded with memories, particularly the arena on opening night against North Carolina, and his spectacular 43-point performance against then-No. 11 Connecticut.
Rice scored 1,865 points for UM, fourth-best in school history. But he went undrafted.
The knock on him is that he was too soft and thin to play power forward, and not quite quick enough to guard smaller players.
He watched as Canes teammates James Jones and John Salmons had long NBA careers. He saw McDonald’s All-American teammates Zach Randolph, DeShawn Stevenson and Darius Miles play in the NBA. But Rice is still waiting.
He says he has put on 40 pounds, gotten stronger and worked on his overall game. He has been one of the leading scorers everywhere he has played.
“I’m still trying to get over here,” he said. “I still feel like I’m one of the most underrated shooters to never be in the NBA. I’m still healthy, still playing. I work hard every day. Still trying to make a point and prove to someone, ‘Hey, I’m still here. I’m not gone yet. I’m not 40 yet.’’’
During Saturday’s UM game, Rice made it a point to chat with the NBA scouts in attendance. He says he doesn’t know why no NBA team has given him a shot.
“I came back from overseas and played in the D-League two years ago to show them I can still compete, and I averaged 18 points,” Rice said. “I was leading the league in three-pointers. I don’t know what it is. I think I’m as good as some of the NBA guys out there. All I can do is work hard and hope I get a chance.’’
He said he gets more motivated with each rejection.
“I love to play, and I have 15 years of [anger] inside me, so I have something to prove,” he said. “I don’t want to stop yet. I haven’t had any significant injuries. I keep myself fit all year round. I own a gym, so I can’t get out of shape.”
Rice lives in Madison, Mississippi, near where he grew up. But he says he’d like to move back to Miami, finish his degree at UM and maybe go into coaching. But first, he wants that NBA phone call.