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Euroleague Final Four MVP Interview: Tyrese Rice Of Maccabi

Tyrese Rice is one of those players who had to advance through his basketball career the hard way. But patience and hard work brought the 6-1 Richmond, VA native success as he raised the Euroleague trophy in Milan last weekend after being awarded the Euroleague's Final Four MVP honor. Five years of waiting and playing overseas in Greece, Lithuania, Germany and Israel has helped Rice to get on top of Europe and win the second most prestigious club basketball award in the world. 

When Rice was attending L.C. Bird High School in 2005, people didn’t believe he was good enough to play DI college ball until he scored 30 points against Kevin Durant’s Oak Hill Academy. But later Rice became the leader of the Boston College Eagles, and successfully played there all four years, averaging 17.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists a game. Then Rice played for five different teams in Europe - Panionios, Artland Dragons, Lietuvos Rytas, Bayern and Maccabi.

I caught up with Rice in the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, in 2011 while he was playing for a Eurocup team Lietuvos Rytas. We met on a sunny day for a photo shoot for SLAM to talk about his high school and college days, being an underdog, NBA dreams, life in Europe and a lot more. Despite conducting this interview nearly three years ago, it is a great opportunity to know more about the Euroleague Final Four MVP.

RealGM: After finishing high school, you were passed over by recruiters. In your opinion, why did this happen?

Rice: I really don’t know. I went to all the big-time camps like Nike camp, adidas camp. After I pretty much did my business there, everybody still passed on me. One thing I heard a lot was big schools didn’t think I was good enough, and smaller schools thought I was too good to go there.

RealGM: Do you remember that game against Oak Hill Academy, where you scored 30 points against Kevin Durant? Is it right to say that game brought a scholarship offer from Boston College?

Rice: Yeah, I remember it. It still gets brought up every once in a while in the city. I hear somebody talking about it. I definitely remember it and they remember it too. I think it brought on the biggest schools. They weren’t sure how I would be able to play against better competition. Playing against [Oak Hill], excelling… It really helped a lot. Boston College was always around, but there were other things, which stopped them from offering me earlier. 

RealGM: What goes through your mind when you think about those days you spent at Boston College? 

Rice: It was all great. I learned so much from coach Al Skinner. I think it was the best four years of my life. We were up—top 5, top 10 in the country. And then we were as low as a losing record. It was a great experience on both sides. We learned to be level-headed and to be in the moment. 

RealGM: Do you still think time-to-time about the game against North Carolina when you scored 46 points?

Rice: I thought it was a good moment in my career, but to me, it didn’t really mean anything because we lost. Having 40 points in a loss really doesn’t mean anything to me because you lose the game. I haven’t watched that game since that happened.

RealGM: What stopped the Eagles run at the Sweet 16?

Rice: We had all the pieces that year and we were just one play away from maybe having a national championship… They got a tip-in at the buzzer that won the game so I can’t really say that they did nothing. Anybody can lose, we seen that happening so many times. 

RealGM: Did you expect to be picked in 2009 NBA Draft? Did you receive positive feedback from NBA teams back then?

Rice: Coming out of college, I felt like I’d done enough to be drafted, but I never set expectations for myself. I go out everyday and take care of my business. Whatever happens after, if the team wants you, they might pick you. That’s what it was. Life still goes on. I thought I had done enough, but maybe I didn’t. There were teams that had a lot of interest in me.

RealGM: What were the main reasons you werent picked in the Draft? 

Rice: I don’t know, I always had to prove myself as a basketball player. In high school, I had to prove I can play in college and in college I thought I proved I can play in the NBA. It could be a lot of things. It’s not always on the basketball court.

RealGM: You played in the NBA Summer League last summer. Do you still feel your NBA dream is alive?

Rice: [Summer League] is good in a lot of ways. NBA teams, scouts and players can see you. And it’s also good because there are also a lot of European scouts as well. It’s almost a win-win situation. You go out there and play; one person likes you and then you have a job for next year. It’s a good opportunity for me to play and be seen. 

RealGM: Youre only 24 years old. What things would you like to prove in your game as a top-caliber player in Europe?

Rice: There are a lot of things that I could improve. Consistency in three-point shooting, rebounding the ball better defensively. I can do a lot of things but I think the main thing I have to do is just focus and get it done. At the end of the day, there’s nobody that is going to stop yourself from being better but yourself. 

RealGM: Have you ever imagined, especially in your senior year in college, that you might start your career overseas, not in the NBA?

Rice: I really never though about it. Like I said, I always take things in a moment. If it was meant for me to go the NBA, I would be going to the NBA. If it’s going overseas, that’s fine. I never looked at it as a failure or I’m not successful in life. I feel like at the the end of the day, I do what I love to do and that’s play basketball. 

RealGM: Last season you played in a small 12,000-person town in Germany, Quakenbruck. Was it tough to live in a such small town, considering you previously lived in Athens and Boston?

Rice: Not really. I’d been all over as a kid. In the summer time, going to different places and being there for weeks. I didn’t think it was that tough. Actually, I think it was really good because I was there, there was nothing to do and I knew I have to focus on basketball and become a better player. I though it was actually great because I stayed right across the street from the gym. There wasn’t much to do, so I went to the gym all the time. I think it was a great thing for me. 

RealGM: In those two seasons in Europe, who surprised you the most?

Rice: It’s just a really different game. Players here in Europe, I think they think the game better than American players, in my opinion. They really read the game a lot better. As you see, players come over from NBA, D-League, they play in Europe and they don’t last over a month, because it’s a totally different game. Off the court, it’s a different culture. If you’ve been to different places in the States then you can go to different places in Europe. The biggest thing to me is food. Just getting used to the food. Everything else is pretty much the same.

RealGM: Are there any funny or interesting stories you could share?

Rice: I got lost in Athens one time. I was about an hour and 30 minutes away from my house. I was thinking I was going on the right way [laughs]. I remember I asked an officer how to get back to where I live he started laughing like, ‘Are you serious? Do you know how far from your house you are right now?’ I had no idea where I was. I thought I was in Athens but really far away from my house. It took me about an hour and 30 minutes to get back home. It was like 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. It was really late and that was crazy.

RealGM: A lot of NBA guys are moving overseas for the first time. What is the best advice you could give them?

Rice: I think they just have to embrace the culture. If you come over here thinking that this is going to be anything like home, then you’re wrong. It’s better when you’re in bigger cities. Vilnius is good, there’s a lot of malls, lots of things to do. But you might get to the smaller city like I was in last year and I didn’t know what to do.

RealGM: Have you ever thought about playing in the D-League?

Rice: I thought about it but not much. I just want to go out and have fun playing basketball and be able to provide the right things for my family. To play in D-League is OK, but playing in the Euroleague to me is the second-best thing to playing in the NBA. If you can’t play in the NBA and you play in the Euroleague, you are almost just as good.

RealGM: Talking about your new team, why did you decide to sign with Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius this summer?

Rice: I thought it was great situation for myself. I knew they had a new coach coming in and I heard a lot of good things about him. I knew some players coming here and I knew we were going to have a great team. And being able to qualify for the Euroleague was another great thing. I thought it would be good for any player’s resume.

RealGM: Once you got here, you said you were ready to lead this team. After those friendly games, do you still see yourself as a leader of Lietuvos Rytas?

Rice: I’m still just learning my teammates. I think I can be one of the leaders of this team. I’m not coming over here and trying to take over but being a point guard, I have to be able to turn the team in the right direction.

RealGM: Did you have a chance to practice with Jonas Valanciuas or see him playing?

Rice: He didn’t practice with us yet but I have seen him play. I know he’s going to help me and I really think I can help him also. He’s going to be a really good player.

RealGM: Did you watch EuroBasket 2011?

Rice: Actually, I watch it every year. I watched the European Championships and World Championships. There are a lot of guys who you may not have ever heard of. But they are great in Europe—you just didn’t hear about them at home. Watching EuroBasket is like watching a bunch of great players playing at one time. It’s good to watch different people and learn from them. 

RealGM: You probably saw Bo McCalebbs superb performance at EuroBasket 2011. Would you consider an offer to play for a European country if you get one? 

Rice: If that opportunity came on my away, I would probably take it. I don’t see how it could hurt me and my career. It can only make me better. More experience and more people would see me. It would be a great opportunity. 

RealGM's 2014 Euroleague Awards

As the Euroleague season comes to an end, RealGM again presents the most outstanding players of Euroleague.

Sergio Rodriguez of Real Madrid is the winner of the RealGM Euroleague MVP award for the 2013-14 season. The 27-year-old point guard has improved all of his main statistical numbers this season, averaging 13.5 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Rodriguez has also helped his team, which holds a 24-5 record this season, to defeat 2011-12 and 2012-13 Euroleague champions Olympiakos Piraeus in the playoffs to reach the Final Four.

Rodriguez is also the winner of the 2013-14 Euroleague Sixth Man of the Year Award as the playmaker came off the bench in every of 29 Euroleague games he played this season.

The RealGM All-Euroleague First Team consists of EA7 Emporio Armani's Keith Langford and Rodriguez at guard, CSKA's Sonny Weems and Real's Nikola Mirotic at forward and FC Barcelona's Ante Tomic at center.

The RealGM All-Euroleague Second Team includes guards Malcolm Delaney of Bayern and Rudy Fernandez of Real, forwards Emir Preldzic of Fenerbahce Ulker and Derrick Brown of Lokomotiv Kuban, and center Bryan Dunston of Olympiakos.

Malcolm Delaney is the winner of the Euroelague Rookie of the Year Award, while 21-year-old Bogdan Bogdanovic of Partizan was the RealGM pick to win the Most Improved Played Award.

Pablo Laso of Real was named as the 2012-13 Euroleague Coach of the Year.

Euroleague MVP

Sergio Rodriguez (Real)

All-Euroleague 1st Team

Sergio Rodriguez (Real) - 13.5 points, 2 rebounds and 5 assists in 23 minutes

Keith Langford (EA7 Emporio Armani) - 17.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 30 minutes

Sonny Weems (CSKA) - 12.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 29 minutes

Nikola Mirotic (Real) - 12.2 points (46 3FG%), 4.6 rebounds in 24 minutes

Ante Tomic (FC Barcelona) - 11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds in 22 minutes

All-Euroleague 2nd Team

Malcolm Delaney (Bayern) - 13.9 points, 3.4 rebounds in 4.5 assists in 28 minutes

Rudy Fernandez (Real) - 13.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 27 minutes

Emir Preldzic (Fenerbahce Ulker) - 10.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 29 minutes

Derrick Brown (Lokomotiv Kuban) - 13.9 points, 4.5 rebounds in 29 minutes

Bryant Dunston (Olympiakos) - 10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds in 25 minutes

Sixth Man Award

Sergio Rodriguez (Real)

Most Improved Player Award

Bogdan Bogdanovic (Partizan) - 14.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 32 minutes

Coach of the Year

Pablo Laso (Real)

Rookie of the Year

Malcolm Delaney (Bayern)

All-Rookie 1st Team

Bryant Dunston (Olympiakos)

Derrick Brown (Lokomotiv Kuban)

Justin Dentmon (Zalgiris) - 16.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 30 minutes

Malcolm Delaney (Bayern)

Matthew Lojeski (Olympiakos) - 11.1 points (43 3FG%), 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 25 minutes

All-Rookie 2nd Team

John Bryant (Bayern) - 7.8 points, 6.5 rebounds in 21 minutes

Lamont Hamilton (Laboral Kutxa) - 10.3 points, 3.6 rebounds in 19 minutes

Scotty Hopson (Anadolu Efes) - 15.5 points (48 3FG%), 4.2 rebounds in 29 minutes

Vladimir Dragicevic (Stelmet) - 14.7 points, 6.7 rebounds in 28 minutes

Will Daniels (JSF Nanterre) -11.5 points, 4.7 rebounds in 21 minutes

Euroleague's Best U-21 Players of 13-14

With less than a month remaining until the Euroleague Final Four in Milan, RealGM presents a list of ten young (21-year-old or younger) Euroleague players that had the most success in 13-14 season.

FC Barcelona’s Alejandro Abrines is the only young Euroleague player, who got already drafted, while some of the other players are projected to hear their name in future NBA Drafts.

- All records and stats through Game 14 of Top-16. 

Alejandro Abrines (FC Barcelona, Spain) - 2013 Round 2 Pick 2

Best performance: 19 points and 3 rebounds in 25 minutes against Partizan.

Averaged 6.8 points, 1.5 rebounds in 17 minutes.

For Alejandro Abrines, who was selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 32nd pick in the previous NBA draft, it was the third Euroleague season of his career and the most successful one. One of the most promising young Spanish talents became an important part of winning FC Barcelona team, who spent more than 400 minutes on the court this Euroleague season. Abrines, who collected 28 performance index rating (PIR) points in a single last season game, did not come any close to this result in 13-14. However, the 20-year-old swingman was more consistent and scored more than 12 points five times already this season.

Arturas Gudaitis (Zalgiris Kaunas, Lithuania) - 2015 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 14 points (4/4 FG) and 6 rebounds in 24 minutes against Lokomotiv Kuban.

Averaged 4.4 points, 2.6 rebounds in 10 minutes.

Arturas Gudaitis spent most of the season doing rehab after having knee surgery last May and played in only seven Euroleague games. Nevertheless, that was enough for Gudaitis to be noticed. Gudaitis demonstrated two out of three best performances among all ten ranked players. In only eight game as a professional basketball player, Gudaitis made it to the Zalgiris starting five against Lokomotiv Kuban and scored 14 points and grabbed six boards. In that game, Gudaitis surprised Euroleague fans by collecting 22 PIR points, while two weeks later the big man also finished a game with 21 PIR points. 

Daniel Diez (Real Madrid, Spain) - 2015 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 8 points and 3 assists in 18 minutes against Lokomotiv Kuban.

Averaged 2.3 points, 0.9 rebounds in 9 minutes.

Real Madrid is currently the most dominant team in Europe, but at the same the Spaniards find time to develop players who might lead the team in the future. Daniel Diez, a product of Real Madrid youth program, had a chance to be a member of one of the most powerful Euroleague teams ever and gain experience from the best. As it has been the case this season, Real usually built an early lead and that allowed head coach Pablo Laso give more opportunities for Diez, who spent 165 minutes on the court this season. Diez has already proved he might be a future player of Real, for instance leading European U-20 Championship in scoring with 18.7 points per game. No doubt, next season with some of the players leaving Madrid Diez should become a more important figure in Madrid.

Domantas Sabonis (Unicaja Malaga, Spain) - 2018 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 7 points and 5 rebounds in 17 minutes against Panathinaikos.

Averaged 2.7 points, 2 rebounds in 9 minutes.

Domantas Sabonis, a son of legendary basketball player Arvydas Sabonis, was only 17 years and 168 days old when he scored his first points in Euroleague tournament. Despite his young age, Sabonis played in 19 games this Euroleague season and got a unique chance to spend 176 minutes on the court. However, Sabonis is not planning to stay in Europe for any longer as his dad confirmed his son’s plans to move to the States and join Gonzaga in 14-15. Recently head coach of Lithuanian national Jonas Kazlauskas revealed his affection for Sabonis’ game, which means that in next few years Lithuania might have another Sabonis in its squad.

Ioannis Papapetrou (Olympiakos Piraeus, Greece) - 2016 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 13 points (5/5 FG) and 2 rebounds in 17 minutes against Laboral Kutxa.

Averaged 4.9 points, 1.5 rebounds in 11 minutes.

After having a solid career with the Texas Longhorns, where he averaged 8.3 points and 4.4 rebounds, Ioannis Papapetrou decided to sign a five-year deal with current Euroleague champion Olympiakos. As expected, Papapetrou didn't get many chances to show his abilities and skill set in Euroleague, but Papapetrou was able to make his name heard in week 11 game against Laboral Kutxa, when the forward scored 13 points without missing a single shot.

Kenan Sipahi (Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul, Turkey) - 2017 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 10 points, 2 assists and 2 steals in 21 minutes against Partizan.

Averaged 2.7 points, 1,1 assists in 13 minutes.

At the beginning of the season, it seemed that Fenerbahce Ulker was too loaded and too deep to give any significant playing time for 18-year-old talent Kenan Sipahi. But not everything went according to the plan for Fenerbahce Ulker and that provided the 6-foot-6 point guard plenty of chances to taste Euroleague basketball. Sipahi, one of the youngest Euroleague players in 13-14, averaged more than 16 minutes a game in regular season and more impressively, started in eight of his 15 games played. 

Luka Mitrovic (Crvena Zvezda Belgrade, Serbia) - 2015 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 8 points and 8 rebounds in 23 minutes against Laboral Kutxa.

Averaged 3.6 points, 4 rebounds in 14 minutes.

Despite appearing in only seven Euroleague games this season, his efficiency in almost 100 minutes proved his worthiness to be among Top 10 young players of this season. Before suffering a knee injury, Mitrovic had become a starting forward for the Crvena Zvezda. Mitrovic collected more than 11 PIR points in three of his last four Euroleague games and considering his young age, turned the ball over only twice in more than 50 minutes of action in that time.

Mam Jaiteh (JSF Nanterre, France) - 2016 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 14 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes against Budivelnik.

Averaged 4.6 points, 3.7 rebounds in 13 minutes.

After a solid performance in the European U-20 Championship, where Mouhammadou Jaiteh averaged 12 points and 7.8 rebounds, the French big man received a chance to demonstrate his talent in the top European league. Despite JSF Nanterre’s Euroleague season was quite short, more or less Jaiteh appeared in all ten regular season games as he also was the only player from this ranking that managed to finish a game with a double-double. In week 8 match against Budivelnik Jaiteh scored 14 points and collected 11 boards, finishing the game with 22 PIR points.

Nikola Milutinov (Partizan Belgrade, Serbia) - 2016 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 10 points and 5 rebounds in 21 minutes against Zalgiris.

Averaged 4.7 points, 3.3 rebounds in 20 minutes.

Partizan Belgrade as usual was the youngest Euroleague team in the tournament, which reserved its starting center spot for 19-year-old Nikola Milutinov. The Serbian big man, who is projected as an early second round pick in 2015 NBA Draft, too often got into foul trouble and usually was overshadowed by his teammate Joffrey Lauvergne. However, considering Milutinov will begin his third Euroleague season being only 19-year-old, he still got plenty of time to strengthen his weak frame and learn how to avoid getting into foul trouble.

Tomas Dimsa (Zalgiris Kaunas, Lithuania) - 2016 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 12 points and 3 rebounds in 19 minutes against Partizan.

Averaged 3.7 points, 1.6 rebounds in 15 minutes.

Tomas Dimsa grabbed Euroleague fans attention when former Zalgiris coach put 19-year-old athletic guard in the starting lineup in season opener against Real Madrid. Dimsa had to guard Rudy Fernandez, who scored 11 points, while the youngster collected six points in almost 24 minutes. However, in other 14 games Dimsa never played as much as in the first one and never took more than seven shot attempts. If next season Dimsa receives more playing time and if he learns how to better use his athletic abilities, Zalgiris’ talent might double his statistical figures in 14-15.

Honorable Mentions: Mihajilo Andric, Boris Dallo, Partizan; Devon Van Oostrum, Ilimane Diop, Laboral Kutxa; Paul Zipser, Bayern; Mario Hezonja, FC Barcelona; Cedi Osman, Anadolu Efes.

The Draft Deadline

The crucial earning years for a basketball player aren't their early 20's but their late 20's, when they are in the prime physically. At that point, it's not about whether they maximized their draft position but whether they developed their game and maximized their earning potential before they start to decline.

Euroleague Interview: Justin Dentmon Of Zalgiris

RealGM caught up with Justin Dentmon in Panevezys, Lithuania during the Lithuanian cup Final Four event to talk about the current crisis in Zalgiris, his personal game, life in Kaunas and more

Euroleague Interview: Malcolm Delaney Of Bayern Munich

RealGM caught up with Malcolm Delaney in Europe to talk about Bayern’s performance in the Euroleague, the team’s affiliation with the soccer program, his future plans and much more.

Europe Interview: Luke Harangody Of Unics Kazan

RealGM caught up with Luke Harangody to talk about his experience in Russia, playing under foreigner coach, NBA and more.

Euroleague Power Rankings (Mid-December Edition)

With less than two weeks remaining until the end of its regular season, RealGM presents the Euroleague Power Rankings. We evaluated and ranked all 24 teams' performance over their first eight games and their perspective for the next rounds.

D-League's Tre Kelley Driven To Turn Ruthless Past Into Success Story

Once the Grizzlies waived him in the 2010 training camp, Tre' Kelley played parts of two seasons overseas where he starred in Europe, and where he scored two 50-point performances in China. Through it all, his sights remained on finding a way back into the NBA, so he decided to return to the D-League with Austin.

Euroleague Interview: Alexis Ajinca Of Strasbourg IG

RealGM spoke with Alexis Ajinca to talk about the restart of his career, his plans to get back to the NBA, France's national team and much more.

Euroleague Power Rankings For Mid-November

Fenerbahce Ulker, Real Madrid, Olympiacos, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Anadolu Efes and CSKA are at the top of RealGM's Euroleague rankings.

Euroleague Power Rankings (End Of October Edition)

While Real Madrid, Fenerbahce Ulker, CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos are at the top of the table and our rankings, Alexis Ajinca has been playing like an MVP candidate.

Stephen Graham Hoping To Settle With NBA Team After Playing Overseas

As a career journeyman with seven teams, Stephen Graham had earned three multi-year contracts, but the NBA’s lockout in 2011 prevented him from working out for organizations in the summer and he eventually landed in the D-League and overseas.

Europe Interview: Jeremy Pargo Of CSKA

RealGM caught up with Jeremy Pargo to talk about his time in the NBA, his decision to join CSKA, the upcoming season in Russia and more.

Europe Interview: Petteri Koponen Of Finland

Right before the tip-off of EuroBasket 2013, Petteri Koponen talked with RealGM about Finish basketball, his NBA dream, first season with Khimki and much more.

The Euroleague Elite 50-40-90 Club

Nikola Mirotic, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Trajan Langdon are amongst the Euroleague players that have shot better than 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line.

Americans Winning Titles Abroad, 2013 Edition

In 45 European national leagues, there were 107 players from the United States on their rosters.

Europe Interview: Deon Thompson Of Alba Berlin

RealGM recently caught up with Deon Thompson to discuss his success in Europe, his game improvement and plans to make it to the NBA.

Europe Interview: Mindaugas Kupsas

RealGM interviewed Sabonis-alum Mindaugas Kupsas, the only potential NBA draftee from Lithuania this year, to talk about his development, the upcoming NBA draft, future plans and much more.

Europe Interview: Dirk Bauermann Of Lietuvos Rytas

RealGM sat down with Dirk Bauermann in Vilnius to talk about the changes in his life, time with Lietuvos Rytas, German basketball, Dirk Nowitzki, his new role with Poland national team and much more.

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