The last outsider to conquer her Euroleague it was Maccabi in 2014 in Milan. And the absolute protagonist of that awesome three days at the Forum was perfectly suited to be a player that few expected to shine in the Final 4: the Tyrese Rice.
A player who was an underdog all his life, but always made sure to refute those who made the mistake of underestimating him. By Panioniowhich was the starting point of his professional career, until AEK where he wrote the epilogue, the diminutive ace gave answers.
He was ignored by the NBA, not by Panionios
Despite his excellent performances with the Boston College (2005-2009), Rice was a victim of… body type racism. His short stature was the reason he was overlooked by NBA teams and was never drafted. “I thought I had done enough to be selected, but it didn’t happen. But that was my whole journey. In high school I had to prove that I was good enough for college and in college I had to prove that I deserved a spot in the draft“, were his words about the NBA dream that remained… a dream. But Rice didn’t give up on the basketball dream. He owed it to his talent, but also to the son he had just 18 years old!
A move to Europe was a one-way street for the short guard from Richmond, Va., and the Panionios it was the first stop in his professional career. THE Nenad Markovic had the acumen to spot his talent and give him a shot that Rice grabbed by the hair while averaging 11.6 points and 2.3 assists. “It was an unprecedented experience. I had never been out of my country before and everything was different, with good and bad touches».
The Artland Dragons and Lithuanian Ritas hosted the next two seasons for Rice, who in the interim had unsuccessfully tried to earn an NBA contract—even a temporary one—through the summer league, where he was tried out by the Jazz and Suns. His very good season with the Bayern in 2012/13, with 15.8 points and 4.4 assists per game, it was the stepping stone to the opportunity of a lifetime. She offered it to him in the summer of 2013 Maccabi. And it was about to change his life and career.
From mediocrity to the moonlit three-day
The truth is that Rice he did not immediately shine in Tel Aviv. In the EuroLeague regular season he averaged just 6.7 points, 2.9 assists and 2 rebounds in 18:27, upping his numbers slightly in the Top 16 and playoffs. There were even scenarios about replacing him. “At one point they said that maybe we are the worst team that Maccabi has ever presented in its history“, he remembers. No one could have expected what followed in the Final 4 in Milan.
Maccabi went there as the absolute outsider having as the first obstacle the determined, after the defeats by Olympiakos in 2012 and 2013, CSKA. The game seemed to be decided when Sonny Weems made it 67-63 for the Moscow team with 19.3 minutes to go. But David Blue’s 3-pointer with 13.5 minutes left and Victor Hriapa’s tragic foul that lost the ball through his hands gave Rice a chance to shine. The short man, who until then had 11 points (4/8 two-pointers, 0/1 three-pointer), 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal, did not hesitate for a moment. He attacked Teodosic scoring over the Serbian defense at 5.5” and Weems’ three-pointer in exhalation missed the mark.
The final against Real, who did not want to step on it like a year ago in London against Olympiakos, had a high degree of difficulty from the beginning, which became greater when the Madrid team led 26-15 in the second quarter. But Rice had a different opinion. With a difficult basket at 58.5” for the end, he put Maccabi in front with 73-69, but with consecutive shots from Sergio Rodriguez and Yannis Bourousi, the match went to overtime.
There Rice was looking for atonement for his own missed 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter. With eight points of his own and an alley oop pass to Alex Tyus he led his team to +6 (79-85) and with 4/4 shots in the final sealed the triumph. “Tyrese is a great player. I know him since he played in Greece and Panionios. He proved to everyone in Europe that he deserves to be at the highest level“, said his teammate after the match, Sofoklis Schorsanitis.
The MVP award could not end up in anyone else’s hands. His son, six years old now, was the first to rush to hug him. “It was a very special moment for me. The photo of this hug has been a career favorite of mine and I have it prominently displayed in my home“, he says.
This particular Final 4 was the highlight of a very good career. He cashed in on his appearances in Milan with huge contracts in Khimki, Barcelona and China, before ending his career playing for Panathinaikos, Bamberg and AEK.
Source: Sport Fm
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