He led Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv to Euroleague glory last season, but now the 2014 Final Four MVP Tyrese Rice is looking to start fresh.
Indeed Rice’s game-winner against CSKA Moscow, followed by his overtime heroics in the championship game against Real Madrid in Milan back in May will live long in the memory of Maccabi fans, and even basketball lovers themselves.
But as soon as Maccabi’s celebrations in Tel Aviv were over though, the 27-year-old, Virginia native though was thinking about his next mission.
This year Rice’s hopes are to guide his new side Khimki Moscow Region to next season’s Euroleague A competition that the Russian giants know only too well, having competed in the premier league of European basketball for three of the last six seasons.
Rice, and Khimki have to do that by winning the Eurocup, another European competition that they are very familiar with, having been in it for six of the last nine seasons.
Rice, as well as Khimki are not out to set goals for themselves though. They don’t want any unnecessary pressure.
“We are feeling good and getting better,” he says. “We have started to learn each other more and to get more familiar with the coach [Rimas Kurtinaitis]. We have guys that were here before, so they are already familiar with everyone.
“We are just trying to adjust and adapt as quick as possible. We will take one game at a time. We won’t set expectations, goals or things like that.”
However the task at hand this season will not be easy as Europe’s second tier competition is as strong as it’s ever been – seasoned Euroleague sides are in the mix – and with that comes the players, rich in experience, regardless of their age. Players like Joffrey Lauvergne, Darjus Lavrinovic and Malcolm Delaney among others.
“It is going to be a big challenge,” Rice said. “Any high-level competition is going to be a big challenge for us. Not only does the Euroleague have great teams, but also the Eurocup. It has a lot of teams that you could play and compete very well in the Euroleague.
“We accept the challenge and understand that there is a difference between the Euroleague and the Eurocup, but it is not a big one.”
Rice missed out on winning the Eurocup in 2012 with Lietuvos Rytas as they reached their version of the Final Four but lost out in the semi-finals. The explosive point guard was in fine form on that day, but his semi-final ended early due to a knee injury. He was forced to watch his side bow out to the Liga Endesa side, but yet despite the disappointment, the American still manages to see the positives from that experience.
“It was a great experience,” Rice recalls. “We had a good season, went to the Finals here in Khimki and lost in the semi-finals against Valencia. I got hurt in the game but we had some success that year. You know what it takes to get here.”
Indeed, Rice knows what it takes to get to the summit, and this season he is in the Eurocup looking only to better himself but more importantly – his team. If they better themselves as a team – that dream of the Euroleague could be a reality.
“I am very excited,” Rice said. “It is always good to start fresh, start new and try to build something which you want to be a part of. The team chemistry is good and getting better. The more than we learn about each other, the easier it is going to be for everybody but as far as the chemistry, we have no problems, everything is good. Everybody has one mindset, and that is try to go out there and win.”