By DOUG DONNELLY
Whiteford head boys varsity basketball coach John Rice reached a coaching milestone Tuesday – 500 career victories.
Here are some interesting notes and facts about his coaching career, which spans nearly 50 years from the start, back in 1969.
FIRST WIN: It was November 29, 1969. Rice was the first-year head coach of the Danville (Ohio) Blue Devils. His Blue Devils beat Highland, 93-76, to record win No. 1 in his career. Rice would win 26 games over the next two years with Danville.
OTHER MILESTONE WINS: No. 100 came against Madison on Jan. 11, 1980; No. 200 came against Deerfield in 1987; No. 300 came against Madison on March 8, 1993 and No. 400 came against Erie Mason on Dec. 7, 2001.
ALL-STATE PLAYERS: Rice has coached multiple First Team All-State players in his career, including: Brad Nieman (1988), Barry Jones (1989), Brad Strahan (1994) and Eddie Sharpe (1996, 1997, 1998). Rice, himself, was an Honorable Mention All-Ohio choice while in high school at Bladensburg (Ohio) High School.
MOST WINS: The player who won the most games while playing for the Bobcats for Coach Rice is Brian Bierley, a four-year Whiteford player from 1986-1989. The Bobcats won 63 games during his career. Chris DuPree was second with 62.
BIGGEST COMEBACK: Whiteford has won more than 40 games in which it was tied or trailed heading into the fourth quarter in Coach Rice’s career. The largest deficit entering the fourth quarter that turned into a Whiteford win was January 19, 2001 when the Bobcats, trailing Summerfield 39-27 to start the fourth quarter, won 61-56, in overtime. Brett Chany forced the OT with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
BIGGEST COMEBACK II: In a 1988-89 game, the fourth-ranked Bobcats trailed Summerfield by 16 points (53-37) with 6:28 left in the fourth quarter, but won in overtime, 72-71. Chris DuPree was fouled on a last-second shot attempt at the buzzer and went to the free throw line and made both for the Bobcats to win by one.
CRAZY FINISH: There have been several crazy finishes for the Bobcats over the years. One of them came early in Coach Rice’s career. At home, the Bobcats and Ida were deadlocked at 59-59 when Ida attempted to throw the ball in-bounds. The ball hit a rafter in the Bobcat gym, giving the ball back to Whiteford under its own basket. Pete Whalen – who’s son Griff Whalen played for the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL – got the ball and drained a 15-foot shot that circled the rim, appeared to bounce out only to clank back into the net for the winner for the Bobcats. “That was the wildest shot I have ever seen,” Rice said at the time.
LAST-SECOND HERO: The Bobcats have won numerous close games and buzzer-beaters during Coach Rice’s three decades of coaching at Whiteford. Of all of those types of wins, no one player hit more clutch, game-winning shots in the dying seconds than Joe Gust, who beat the buzzer four times in his career to lift the Bobcats to victories. And, that doesn’t include a game that Gust hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to force overtime against Ottawa Hills, resulting in a four-point Whiteford win.
500 PLUS ONE: Rice coached the “South” squad to a win in the 2003 Monroe County Boys Basketball All-Star game, which was the inaugural game of the short-lived all-star game series.
COACHING VS. ALL-TIME GREATS: Rice has coached against numerous Hall of Fame coaches in his career, including Ed Heintschel of Toledo St. John Jesuit, Dave Soules of Detroit East Catholic and Ray Lauwers of Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central. Besides the TCC, he’s coached in the Toledo City Athletic League and Detroit Catholic High School League.
OTHER SPORTS: Basketball isn’t the only sport that Rice has coached. Soon after being named varsity basketball coach, he joined John Flynn’s football coaching staff at Whiteford. He coached the Whiteford varsity baseball team from 1980-195, winning 47 games. He coached the Whiteford JV girls basketball team from 1978 to 2003 and was the girls varsity head coach from 2004 to 2006, winning 27 more games. He was on the bench as an assistant for Kris Hubbard when the Bobcat girls varsity basketball team reached the Class D state championship game in 1984.
FIVE SCHOOLS: While Coach Rice has spent the bulk of his varsity coaching career at Whiteford, he’s also coached at four schools other than Whiteford – Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, Flat Rock, Toledo Bowsher and Danville (Ohio).
2-0 VS. WHITEFORD: His coaching stops after Whiteford included two games against the Bobcats, both resulting in wins by Rice-coached teams. His Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard team beat Whiteford to open the 2003-04 season and his Bowsher team beat Whiteford in 2008.
DEFEATS: Coaches sometimes remember defeats more than they remember wins. Two losses that are certain to stand out in Rice’s career include a 58-57 loss to Britton on Feb. 11, 2000 and an almost-unbelievable 38-37 loss to Morenci in the 2002 District semifinal. The details:
Britton’s miracle finish: Brad Maska – now the coach at Onsted – was a three-sport star at Britton and went on to play quarterback for Adrian College. One of his biggest moments on the basketball floor was a half-court shot off an in-bounds pass to beat the Bobcats in 2000. Britton finished 11-3 in the TCC that year, winning the league. The Bobcats were 10-4.
You had to be at the Morenci came to believe it: Morenci scored a basket to tie the game 37-37 with just under three minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Bobcats got the ball back and went into a delay-type offense, remarkably holding the ball for more than two and a half minutes against a stiff Morenci pressure. When the Bobcats began driving to the basket in the closing seconds, the ball was knocked loose and a Morenci player picked it up and heaved a 75-footer right as the buzzer sounded. The referee called a foul on the Bobcats on the play, which was just the fourth of the half for Whiteford. However, the referee called it a shooting foul – 75-feet from the basket – giving Morenci three free throws with :00 on the clock. The Bulldog made the first free throw, ending the game.
MOST WINS AGAINST – TEAM: Whitmore Lake is the team that Rice’s teams have victimized the most – 54 wins out of 59 games.
MOST WINS AGAINST – COACH: Longtime Britton coach Bart Bartels was the coach that Coach Rice has more wins against than any other head coach – 22.
COACH HE HAS COACHED AGAINST THE MOST: The coach he coached against the most is Charlie Risner of Sand Creek. The two matched up 40 times over the years with Rice winning the head-to-head matchup 21 times and Risner recording 19 wins.
WIN NO. 500: Other than the home Whiteford Gymnasium, perhaps no other place has seen more meaningful wins for Coach Rice than Summerfield. The Bobcats won District championships – on late-game heroics nonetheless – in 1976, 1986 and 2003 at Summerfield, won a game with :00 time left on the clock at Summerfield and, after Tuesday, his 500th varsity basketball win, yes, at Summerfield. Summerfield was also the site of Rice’s first game as the Bobcat head coach, but that was in the old Summerfield gymnasium (now the middle school gym) in 1973.