By Matt Sugam
When Rutgers hosts UAB at the RAC on Sunday, they’ll be doing so with a dark cloud over their heads and the focus of the public on anything but the game thanks to their head coach Mike Rice.
Rice was suspended three games and fined $50,000 by Rutgers for language and behavior directed towards players. The Star-Ledger later reported that it was for throwing basketballs at players’ heads in his first or second year as head coach.
Associate head coach David Cox will take the reins until Rice returns after the Rider game on December 28. Cox’s job is to keep a Rutgers team that needs to make at least the NIT for Rice to keep his job on track.
“As a team we will move forward and get prepared for our game on Sunday vs. UAB,” Cox said on a conference call with reporters, adding, “We’re 6-2. We’re moving this program forward. “We have a huge game on Sunday and I think the main focus right now is that game on Sunday.”
Something the players know. Which is why they’re not dwelling on what’s going on with their head coach.
“We knew that we had to rebound fairly quickly [after hearing about the suspension] and get back focused to the objective at hand and we’re trying to do something big here. Go 7-2 on Sunday against a very good UAB team,” senior forward Austin Johnson said. “So we focused back in very quickly. We understand what’s going on, but at the same time, the motive is one thing and that’s try and get a win on Sunday.”
Which is easier said than done.
But soon after Cox became the interim head coach he gave his team a simple message. The magnitude of the game against UAB.
“It’s important for different reasons,” Cox said. “It’s important because we want to continue to win and move forward as a program, but it’s also very important that we represent the university in a manner of which to be proud of.”