When Ben Braun was hired to be the head coach at Rice University in 2008, it looked like a home run hire. For Rice’s standards anyway. Here was a guy who did a great job with Eastern Michigan, taking a five-win team in year one of his tenure to an NCAA Tournament appearance two years later and then a Sweet Sixteen two years after that. He took the California job in 1996 and went on to four more Tournaments in his first six years in the Bay Area. He was Mr. Fix It. But walking into Tudor Fieldhouse last night was like walking into the old Autry Court. It was the same school that hasn’t been to the NCAAs since 1970. It was still the place where Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, not former athletes, get more attention even in an athletic facility. It was still the place where visiting team’s fans outnumbered Owls’ diehards. It had the same feel of a program stuck between neutral and reverse, the worst feeling a program can have.
But then Mr. Fix It was methodically at it again. The Owls finished last season 19-16 and had a solid core returning to make a run at some kind of postseason action with second team all-CUSA forward Arsalan Kazemi along with Tamir Jackson, Dylan Ennis, Ahmad Ibrahim and Omar Oraby. Everything was going according to plan. Or so it seemed.
Then a May article in the Houston Chronicle announced that Rice assistant Marco Mocros, an integral part of the recruitment of Kazemi and Oraby, would not return to the staff and unfortunately set off a dangerous domino effect. Ibrahim was the first who decided to leave the program to play basketball overseas. Ennis transferred to Villanova, Oraby left for Southern Cal and Kazemi alighted to Oregon. CBSSports.com then reported that the transfers of Kazemi and Oraby were both due to racial discrimination by Rice athletic director Rick Greenspan. The AD and Braun vehemently denied those dangerous accusations (which can put a black eye on the program for years) but as far as this season was concerned, they were already cooked. All the hard work Braun had put in for four years at Rice was gone in a matter of months.