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November 8, 2012

Photos, Story: At age 43, former ‘Canes’ star takes on college — and basketball

(Continued)

NEW CASTLE — PLANNING TO PLAY

Rice was a shooter while playing at New Castle High, but coach Don Ross helped him hone other aspects of his game.

Like his faith, Brian said his game has matured, too.

“I will rebound, play defense or whatever coach needs me to do.”

But make no mistake, Rice is not there to watch.

“I’m trying to get into the top seven of the rotation,” he said. “I may not be as fast as others, but nobody can outwork me,” Rice said. “And coach made it clear that whoever works the hardest will play.”

Because the basketball program graduated a lot of seniors, Santarsiero said “We’re going to be a different Geneva team and play a different style. We’ve got to create points from defensive pressure.

“Brian wants to play, but we’ll have to see how that factors out,” Santarsiero said. “I don’t make any promises.”

“He has to go through everything the others do.”

Rice understands and agrees. His teammates refer to Brian as “Chief,” which was his rank in the Navy.

“They show more respect when they see you doing everything they are doing,” Rice said.

Rice relates to his younger teammates, but also to a peer on the coaching staff. Assistant Jason McCowin was a junior at Blackhawk in 1987 when the Cougars played New Castle during the Christmas tournament. There was a stand-clearing brawl during the contest, but Rice says neither he nor McCowin were involved. “When I was being introduced to the team, Jason said, ‘I know you.’ ” A few moments later they were discussing the game.

SPEAKS TO ’CANES

Rice said it was a rare day when he didn’t have a basketball in his hands during his 8,800 days in the Navy. He played for more than two decades almost always against younger players.

Seeing that he could compete with them made him believe he could compete on the collegiate level when he returned to the states last February.

Ralph Blundo, boys basketball coach at New Castle High, invited to Rice to share his wisdom with the ’Canes during last year’s championship season. “He was around our players a lot, and it’s been very beneficial,” Blundo said.

Rice graduated from high school in June 1987, and two months later was serving in Japan. That was where he met Marquita, a modern jazz ballet dancer from Brooklyn, N.Y.

They have two daughters, the aforementioned Brittany and 13-year-old Zoe. Marquita embraces Brian’s dream while she pursues one of her own — opening dance studios in New Castle and Youngstown.

Brian’s father, Kelly, died in 2003. His mother, Catherine, lives on South Jefferson Street.

He is a licensed minister and ordained elder, having served in community outreach overseas, working with youths and young adults.

He began that course while he was stationed in Virginia, where a pastor asked him to mentor the young adults stationed there. The pastor had a 17-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son whom he enthusiastically entrusted to Rice.

Santarsiero believed that Rice’s experiences will help his younger teammates.

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