Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice: ‘I know we can build something here’

Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice feels he is building something “special” with the Broncos. That feeling was so strong, in fact, that he opted not to pursue a job at his alma mater that would have reportedly paid him double what he gets at Boise State.

Rice spoke with the media Tuesday, the first time since Boise State announced a pay raise for him March 29. Rice got a $100,000 salary boost to nearly $600,000 for next season, but still is quite a bit less than the $1.4 million Ernie Kent will get at Washington State. Rice interviewed for the vacancy before agreeing to remain at Boise State and not further pursue the Cougars’ vacancy. Kent was hired last week.

“I feel like there’s such a good commitment here toward what we’re building, starting with our staff — we love it here,” Rice said. “Our administration has the commitment, and our fans are committed.

“It’s never a direct line to the top, but we’re zigging and zagging up the right way. I know we can build something here.”

Rice said “it would’ve been tough” to leave with Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks set to be seniors in 2014-15. They are currently ranked seventh and 11th, respectively, on the school’s all-time scoring list.

“We’ve got a great nucleus coming back, and it’s a team that has a chip on its shoulder,” Rice said.

After dealing with rare high expectations last season, next season will see a team that won’t be content with simply winning 20 games.

“That is new — we’ve accomplished some great things, but you win 21 games, you don’t want to say disappointed … but we know we should have won more,” Rice said. “We’re working to go from a good team to a great team. Great teams win those close games.”

A few quick notes
-The Broncos will have to fill Ryan Watkins’ vacancy “by committee,” Rice said. He expects sophomore Nick Duncan to build strength and cut weight this offseason. Incoming freshman David Wacker and junior college commit Kevin Allen will add height at 6-9, and 6-10, respectively. He said next season’s team will be more athletic and bigger, capable of handling Mountain West teams night after night. He stressed the need for a “rim protector,” which could come from one of those newcomers.

-Among the new aspects of Rice’s improved deal will be more mid-week charter flights, which the team did just once last season, and more money for the recruiting budget. Also helping that cost is the fact the team will not take a summer exhibition trip. Rice had hoped to have one in Australia last summer, and back then said he was hoping to do it this summer. After seeing the toll last season took on his team, he did not want to add a month to next season, he said.

-The team’s schedule is coming along slowly, as Rice has said that major conference schools have been hesitant to schedule home-and-home series, especially with the Broncos’ rise as a program. The Broncos will play at Saint Mary’s and will play Idaho at CenturyLink Arena before Thanksgiving. Rice said the team is hoping to take part in a nonconference tournament after having a positive experience at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii last December.

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