Sports

Boise State basketball coach Leon Rice: ‘I love being the coach here’

Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice met with the media for the first time since the Broncos’ season ended March 10, covering a variety of topics, leading with the most recent news in his program: the hiring of assistant coach Phil Beckner.

Beckner spent last season on Nebraska’s staff, and worked at Weber State from 2007 to 2014. His first season with the Wildcats, as director of basketball operations, was the final season Boise State associate head coach Jeff Linder was on the Weber State staff.

“Phil’s got an association with this part of the country from his time at Weber State, he’s got such a good reputation out there as a player development guy and as a high-level, connected recruiter, he does a diligent job in everything he does, he’s going to be a good fit for what we have, staff-wise,” Rice said. “We’ve got a good group of young players, and player development is going to be a big key going forward.”

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has attributed a lot of his success to Beckner’s aid while playing collegiately at Weber State. Wildcat coach Randy Rahe was someone whom Rice leaned on as he sought a replacement for Danny Henderson. Like Henderson, Beckner will be tasked as the primary defensive coach.

“Randy’s somebody I really trust and respect in this business, and he just was glowing about the things he said he did with their defense, and that’s an area where we can improve, we’re looking for improvement there,” Rice said.

Rice noted the importance of fit, with Beckner’s time in the West a draw, and for Henderson’s move to Oklahoma State, “I don’t look at it as moving up,” but that Henderson is a Texas native who had some of his top high school players wind up with the Cowboys.

“It’s a great situation for us, and I think we rebounded perfectly,” Rice said.

Here’s a look at the multitude of topics Rice addressed:

-On James Webb III’s early departure for a pro career: “We hit a milestone with a kid that’s coming out early ... he’s going to end up having a great career because he’s working really hard at it, he’s got the ability. We’ve seen how much he’s grown every year he’s been here, and if he continues that growth, he’ll have a long career.”

-On Webb’s pro/NBA potential: “The thing about him, he does some things ... he has a certain skill set, things he does at the highest of levels. He has a terrific motor, he goes and rebounds the ball. His shooting took a dip this year, but he can really shoot the basketball.”

-On how the team may replace Webb: “James brought us that athleticism that can match up with the Mountain West. We have to get more athletic, we have to have some guys that can score the basketball that have athleticism and a little bit of size. I feel really good about our combo guards, our young guards that we’re going to develop. We’ve got good big guys in the stable. What we don’t have right now maybe, is that we have Chandler (Hutchison), and then we don’t have that many athletic wings.”

-What sort of recruiting goals the team has with three open scholarships: “I’ve got a lot of belief in the guys we have in this locker room. ... I have big plans for the guys we’re bringing in, big plans for the guys that didn’t play this year, like Malek (Harwell), David (Wacker) and James Reid. ... I love our young talent. If we can add the right piece in the spring, then I’d feel really, really good about what we have.”

-On his own status as coach after interviewing at Saint Louis: “I love being the coach here. I love our players, what we have coming back, this community. We’re building something. It’s hard to go from a good program, a really good team, to a great program, and we’re trying to make that step. ... now we’ve got to take another step, we need a commitment from the community, our players, our staff, our administration, everybody. It takes more to do more. We’re going to have to keep stepping it up. Nothing’s ever changed as far as when I took this job, the potential I saw in it.”

-On opting out of the Vegas 16 Tournament: “We were pretty close ... it just didn’t end up panning out, they ended up only getting eight teams. It just felt like the right thing, to start moving forward, moving onto next year. ... if we’d have been a really young team that needed more experience, that would’ve been a good fit.”

-Noting which players he hopes can improve most this offseason: “Chandler (Hutchison), you look at the Final Four, the 10 starters, every single one was a top 75 (recruit). Chandler was a top 100 kid, he’s got to take another jump to be an elite player in this conference. Paris is a guy that was a top 100 kid, he’s got to take another jump. I think we’re going see a lot of growth in all those big guys, because big guys develop at a steady pace. I’ve seen a lot of growth in those guys already.”

-On the impact James Reid can make: “He already has. He’s one of the best leaders I’ve been around. That kid, he wants to be a coach, and he’s a coach’s kid. He just gets it. ... a player-led team can be great, and we’re seeing that with James.”

-On working with new options, with three players 6-10 or taller on the roster: “We always adjust to what we have. That’s kind of what I used to be more comfortable with a long time ago, those traditional bigs. ... they’re not the old-school big that just has to go sit on the block and clog up the lane for us. We’ll adjust, we adjusted last year, we became a really good team that could score on the block with James (Webb) and Nick (Duncan). There will be some tweaks to how we play offense a little bit, but not an overhaul.”

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Rice also said walk-ons Cody Spjute and Collin Landry won’t return.

Here is a look at how the Broncos’ 2016-17 roster looks as of Monday:

Seniors

G James Reid (6-3, 200) - redshirted 2015-16, 7.9 ppg, 34.7 percent 3-point shooting in 2014-15 at UALR

F Nick Duncan (6-8, 260) - 11.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 35 percent 3-point shooting (62-177)

Juniors

G Chandler Hutchison (6-7, 193) - 6.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, scored in double figures seven times first 18 games, once in final 13

Sophomores

F Zach Haney (6-11, 230) - 3.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg in 8.9 minutes per game

C Robin Jorch (6-10, 250) - 1.9 ppg, 0.8 rpg; made seven starts

G Paris Austin (5-11, 180) - 4.1 ppg, 35:22 assist to turnover ratio; played strong late with 30 points in final four games

C David Wacker (6-10, 233) - has played parts of two seasons, expected to get medical redshirt after early December foot injury

Freshmen

G Malek Harwell (6-4, 190) - redshirted last season after tearing ACL in preseason practice

G Alex Hobbs (6-4, 180) - signed in November; among top 25 scorers in the nation with 30.9 ppg last season for La Porte (Texas) High

G Justinian Jessup (6-5, 185) - signed in November; averaged 18.3 ppg for Longmont (Colo.) High, named all-state by Denver Post

*Broncos have three open scholarships

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