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It was the mid-1990s and King Rice watched as Bobby Hurley desperately tried to cling to his waning NBA career. Where others saw a once promising player in decline, Rice saw a coach in waiting, a North Carolina guy admiring the Duke star from afar.

“I always wished he would have been a basketball coach, just because what he brings to the game,” said Rice, the former North Carolina point guard who is now the coach at Monmouth. “His family name, his dad is incredible at it, his brother is great at it. Bobby Hurley not as a basketball coach? I couldn’t believe it.”

It took longer than most expected but Hurley’s destiny finally grabbed him four years ago and now he’s leading the program at the University at Buffalo, following in the footsteps of his legendary father, Bob Sr., and brother Danny, who is coach at Rhode Island.

“I’m happy that he’s a head coach; I knew whenever he got in it would be quickly,” Rice said. “He was one of the best players from one of the best coaching families in the country. I have a lot of respect for Bobby Hurley.”

Rice is even thinking about sending his 13-year-old son to play for Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony in Jersey City, N.J.

“It’s about an hour ride,” Rice said, “but I respect their family so much.”

Rice knew he was watching a future coach when they competed against each other as rivals. No one ran an offense better than Hurley and Duke was in complete control of the sport.

“He’s probably the best guard I’ve ever played against, it would be him or Kenny Anderson,” said Rice, a native of Binghamton and, like Hurley, a one-time McDonald’s All-American. “I think when I was still playing, Kenny might have been a little bit better, but Bobby ended up having the best college career of anybody. Bobby and I used to really, really get after each other; it was Duke-Carolina, we were both point guards, we really got after each other.”

Prior to his senior year Rice said he and Hurley hung out once and became associates – Duke and Carolina guys can’t be “friends” while in school – and he gained more respect for Hurley after completing his college career.

“I really watched him because I was so impressed with how tough he was, how competitive he was,” Rice said. “The first couple of times my team won, the next couple of times his team won and we really got into it.”

When Hurley finally stepped into his true vocation, joining his brother, Dan, on the bench at Wagner in 2010, Rice saw him on the road while they were recruiting.

“I didn’t know how he would take me coming up to him but I went up to him and said, ‘I’m so happy for you,’ ’’ Rice said. “He sent me a text one night about one of our games and we were playing a team they had already played and he was like, ‘Man, you’re getting hammered by everybody.’ I was thinking the same thing but I couldn’t say it. It was so funny.’’

When Monmouth made its Western New York trip last week to Niagara and Canisius, the Hawks practiced at UB.

“I can say Bobby and I are friends,” Rice said. “Buffalo, he’ll be great for you.”

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Rice never would have made it to North Carolina if Jim Baron had his way. When the Canisius coach was an assistant at Notre Dame in the ’80s, he recruited Rice heavily and it seemed like a perfect fit.

Rice’s mother is Irish and Saturdays in the fall were all about Notre Dame football.

“My grandmother was hoping” he would get to play for Digger Phelps. “My high school coach’s brother went to Notre Dame and it was very, very, very close,” Rice said. “I was just a young kid and I’d never really been out of Binghamton before and Coach Baron, the way he recruited me, did everything the right way. It was about our family, he cared about my parents, who we were and where I was coming from. People don’t recruit you like that.”

But on his visit to South Bend he met only briefly with All-American David Rivers and Rice said the other Irish players “weren’t as warm as the other kids in other places.”

With Rivers headed to the pros, Rice suspects the Irish players didn’t want him cutting into their playing time.

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Niagara booted Aaron Bodie from the team after the freshman from Newark, N.J., was involved in a shoplifting incident, according to a source. It’s not a huge loss for the Purple Eagles as Bodie played in two games for a grand total of four minutes.

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Not a very auspicious debut for the new Big East, now is it? Gone are the days when the teams clobbered each other then waited as half the teams were awarded NCAA berths. As it stands, they’ll be fortunate to land three teams. Butler, the one-time mid-major darling, and St. John’s are 0-9. Providence’s roster changes as frequently as a minor league baseball team while Seton Hall is constantly banged up. Marquette and Georgetown, which appeared to be the league’s best programs before any games were played, are no longer considered elite with a combined 11 losses between them. The only teams who appear worthy of making serious noise come March are Villanova and Creighton. The Wildcats’ lone loss was at Syracuse, arguably the nation’s best team, while the Blue Jays and national Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott have ripped off 10 straight. Xavier will also factor into the league race. Other than that, the Big East is a big yawn.

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On the other hand, former Big East members Syracuse and Pittsburgh have elbowed their way to the top of the ACC while the customary powers that be – Duke and North Carolina – are struggling. Duke allowed a 13-point lead against Virginia to dissipate with eight minutes remaining, and narrowly avoided its first 1-3 start in league play since 1995-96. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, are in the ACC cellar at 0-3. Is Roy Williams losing his touch with his kids? Take away Syracuse and Pitt and the conference leaders are unranked Virginia, Florida State and Clemson.

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McDermott is now in the top 25 on the NCAA’s career scoring list with 2,644 points, moving past Davidson’s Stephen Curry, and has a shot at reaching 3,000 points. With at least 15 games remaining, all he has to do is maintain his average of 25.2 points.

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Keep an eye on Cal (12-4) as a threat to Arizona in the Pac 12. The Bears are off to a 3-0 start – all on the road – after beating rival Stanford and sweeping the Oregon schools. A sprained ankle has sidelined talented freshman guard Jabari Bird the last four games – he was expected to return Wednesday against Washington – but senior point guard Justin Cobbs, a clutch player who makes big shots, stepped up his game in his absence. Cobbs has averaged 19 points and 7.2 assists with Bird on the sidelines. Cal plays eight of its next 14 games at home.

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It’s improbable to think Syracuse and Arizona will remain undefeated much longer but Wichita State is another matter. The Shockers rallied from a 19-point deficit on the road to win in overtime at Missouri State and blew out Bradley by 22 points on Tuesday. While life on the road in the Missouri Valley can be difficult now that Creighton is in the Big East, only Indiana State and perhaps Northern Iowa are talented enough to stop them. It would be hard to deny Wichita State a top seed if that happens.

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A good under-the-radar team to pull off an early-round upset come March is Horizon leader Green Bay (13-3). They have a win over Virginia, ranked 22 in the RPI, a three-point loss against Wisconsin and have won their last eight.

email: rmckissic@buffnews.com