— NEW CASTLE, Pa. – Brian Rice has seen the world – 60 countries on six continents.
But there’ something yet to discover: Can he hit a 15-foot jump shot in a college basketball game?
A star player in high school, Rice opted for a stint in the Navy, hoping to save a little money and mature.
What was expected to be a tour of duty evolved into a military career that lasted a quarter century.
The dream of being a college player, however, never vanished. Now the 43-year-old is getting his chance to show other players that are young enough to be his son that he’s still got game.
A student in the adult degree completion program, Rice is studying community ministry at Geneva College and has won a spot on the Golden Tornadoes’ roster. He's a licensed minister.
He’s looking forward to the first game Nov. 16 against Penn State-Fayette after learning from Coach Jeff Santarsiero that he was one of two walk-ons selected to be on the team.
“When you hear about a 43-year old wanting to play college basketball, you have some questions,” Santarsiero said. “Are you sure?” is the first thing Santarsiero wanted to know from Rice.
Rice is a 6-2, 200-pound versatile athlete, who believes he can contribute at several spots.
“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.”
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.
Santarsiero said Rice isn’t being treated as a “charity case” and he will have to prove he can compete against guys half his age. That could prove to be a challenge. Age has its limitations. “We’ll just have to see if his knees are going to hold up. He’s got to ice them after every practice.”
Rice said he’s already formed solid relationships with his teammates. Some players have invited him to share basketball and life advice with them.
“I have a responsibility to make my teammates better,” said Rice, who has a love for basketball and for being a positive example for young people.
“God has allowed me to get the whole package,” he said. “Sometimes God combines our vocation with our avocation. He certainly did that for me.”
Details for this story were provided by David Burcham, a reporter for the New Castle (Pa.) News.