Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a national columnist.
That bench. Those big upset wins over major conference teams. That bench.
Monmouth has had a surprising start to the 2015-16 season, beating UCLA in overtime at Pauley Pavilion (where even top-ranked Kentucky fell last night), and then Notre Dame and USC on a neutral court in Orlando during a Thanksgiving week tournament. And the Hawks have had a ton of fun doing it, with their bench becoming nationally known for their hilarious and diverse set of celebrations. We talked with fifth-year coach King Rice about where his program’s been, where it’s going and (on accident) where he plans to retire to when he hangs up the whistle.
Where did this season-opening run come from?
We’ve been going after this for a while. This is my fifth year as the head coach. Every year, we’ve played high majors. My first three years, the average margin of loss was 36 points. We played three or four of them a year, and everybody told me, “King, you’re crazy for playing schedules like this. What are you doing? What are you doing?” I just thought it was the right thing to do. Last year, our average margin of loss was nine points, and last year we played West Virginia, we played Maryland, we played SMU and Rutgers, so I felt like we were getting closer.
But to have this much success this early, no one could have imagined that. But we do have an older team now, most of our guys are juniors, and we’ve been in those situations for three years – and now it’s time for us to have a chance in those games.
You have that experience, yet you only have one senior…
I don’t want you to tell anybody that, because I don’t know if people understand. We’ve been building this program – this is our fifth year – and when we first started, we didn’t have a lot of success. My athletic director, Dr. Marilyn McNeil, believed in what she was seeing and what we were doing. And now it’s time for us to have some success, and the program is set up for us to be in a good place, because we do only have one senior. And then the following year, we’re going to lose five or six guys, but the guys that are in the program that will still be in the program are getting valuable minutes right now. So we truly feel like we’ve set it up the right way so we won’t be a one-hit wonder.
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