Boise State Basketball

After playing through ‘a lot of pain,’ Boise State’s top scorer has surgery

Boise State’s Rice explains his policy on discussing coaching rumors

Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice responds to local media questions about the recent coaching rumors surrounding his program.
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Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice responds to local media questions about the recent coaching rumors surrounding his program.

Justinian Jessup is the only Boise State men’s basketball player in program history to record back-to-back seasons with 80 or more 3-pointers.

Given what he went through to accomplish the feat, his statistics for the 2018-19 season are all the more impressive.

Jessup recently had offseason surgery on an injured knee.

“After I saw the picture of what they took out of him, for the things that he did this year and the minutes that he played, it’s pretty amazing,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “… He got a piece of bone removed from his knee that was just tearing up his tendons. He played through a lot of pain, and that kid is pretty tough because the last three or four weeks, I don’t think I subbed him, and if I did, it was a minute.

“To do what he did on the leg that he was playing on, in hindsight, it was pretty amazing.”

Jessup led the Broncos in points (463), rebounds (149), assists (88), steals (35) and blocks (17) this past season. He is the first player in Boise State history to do so and only the third player in the Mountain West, joining Air Force’s Evan Washington (2009-10) and Wyoming’s Justin James (2018-19).

Jessup made 90 triples his sophomore year and 87 as a junior, the No. 2 and No. 3 performances by a Bronco in a single season. His 227 career 3-pointers ranks fifth in program history and is just 48 away from the record of 275 set by Anthony Drmic from 2011 to 2016.

“He’s such a tough kid that he never says anything (about the injury),” Rice said. “ ‘How are you doing Justinian? Are you doing OK?’ ‘Yup, good.’ That was it. You never really knew how much pain he was in until, like I said, you see what they took out of his knee.”

Heading into his senior season, Jessup ranks No. 21 on Boise State’s all-time scoring list with 1,071 points.

And with his knee injury out of the way, he could be poised for his best season yet.

Rice on rumors

After Ernie Kent was fired at Washington State last month, Rice’s name was immediately brought up by national media members as a potential top candidate to replace Kent.

Former University of San Francisco coach Kyle Smith was eventually hired to take over for the Cougars.

During a press conference with local media members Monday, Rice said he does not discuss job openings and rumors because “all the stuff gets inferred and implied, and I never think it’s healthy.”

Rice did reaffirm his commitment to the Broncos.

“We love it here, and I know what we have in this locker room for next year,” Rice said. “I know the commitment I’ve made to these guys and the commitment they’ve made to me, and that’s important to me. It’s harder to stay at one place than it is to bounce around.”

The 2019-20 season will be Rice’s 10th with the Broncos, and he is the longest-tenured coach in the Mountain West. He is one of just 62 active Division I coaches who will be entering at least the 10th year of their tenure at their current institution.

“I’m just happy to be the coach here and excited about the future,” Rice said. “I approach every year like I took a new job — with the energy, enthusiasm and excitement of that, and that really helps me.”

Grad transfer rule could change

Later this month, the NCAA will vote on a potential change to the graduate transfer rule, according to the New York Times.

The rule change would require grad transfers to earn their secondary degree within one year, or the team would be docked a scholarship for the next year.

With the departures of Malek Harwell and Pat Dembley, the Broncos have two spots for the upcoming season they potentially could use for a pair of grad transfers.

“I like the rule in the fact that the grad transfer market’s crowded as far as people wanting them,” Rice said. “Well, now if you’re going to take one maybe you have to pay a little more of a price to take one, so you have to be pretty serious about it. It eliminates maybe the stockpiling. Some programs just take guys and they’re a grad transfer, and end up being their eighth man.

“The ones that are taking them to be starters, you’ll pay for a starter that way. It might level the playing field a little bit.”

Rice said next year’s team already has the pieces in place to be “good,” so he won’t limit his recruiting search to a single type of player or position.

“I always tell our guys, need is a terrible evaluator,” Rice said. “You don’t want to get too pigeon-holed into ‘We need this. We need that.’ We need great players. Let’s not take Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. I think that’s a really good policy to have.”

Rebounding dominance set to return?

Boise State finished the 2017-18 season with a rebounding margin of plus-8, which ranked No. 6 in the nation. The Broncos outrebounded their opponents in 27 of 32 games, which was a program record.

Although the 2018-19 season did not follow suit — the Broncos ranked 205th with a minus-0.2 — the rebound-obsessed Rice believes next year’s team will be among the country’s best on the boards.

“We will definitely be one of the best rebounding teams in the country — no ifs, ands or buts,” Rice said. “Because we’re going to have more depth, there’s more guys that’ll do the job and you get more guys that are quicker to the ball and a little tougher. We’ll be a great rebounding team next year.”

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Rachel Roberts has been covering sports for the Idaho Statesman since 2005. She attended Northwest Nazarene University and is Boise born and raised.

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