By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – When Rutgers tips off against No. 7 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Wednesday night, Mike Rice is going to be pacing the sidelines for the first time in three weeks after serving his three game suspension.
“It’s going to be fun,” Rice said. “It will be interesting to see what’s taking place with Jim Boeheim’s chase for 903, it’s going to be interesting because I miss it so much and so I’m not going to take it for granted.”
Aside from trying to delay Boeheim from making history, Rutgers is trying to make some of their own.
“I think it’s 37 years now that we haven’t been successful at Syracuse and I think that’s a challenge,” Rice said. “There’s a lot of challenges that lie ahead with this program.”
And after putting the suspension behind him and beginning to change his ways, Rice is focused on those challenges. All the while wishing the focus was on the success of his team so far, rather than his transgression.
“If you haven’t noticed, we’re 9-2 and again part of that is my fault,” Rice said. “I’m taking away from what Myles Mack has done for the first 11 games. Has anybody watched Kadeem Jack? He’s a different player than he was last year. And Wally [Judge]. And our whole program.
“I feel partly responsible that they haven’t been looked at because people have looked at me instead. These guys are developing. This program is developing.”
And they can show that in upstate New York against a Hall of Fame head coach guiding one of the top programs in the country as they open up Big East conference play.
It’s something Rice is anxiously anticipating.
“Boy I can’t wait to get up there,” Rice said. “Boy I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves so to speak, get in there with the guys and start sweating and competing again.”
And neither can his players, who are expecting a smooth transition after going 3-0 in Rice’s absence.
“It’s going to be great. It was only three games. [Associate head] coach [David] Cox did a great job and now that coach Rice is back it’s not like he’s been gone for 20 years,” senior forward Austin Johnson said. “So it’s great to have him back and now we’re focused in on Syracuse.”