Ron Rice, the dean of Valley boys basketball coaches, could it a career when his Vikings host San Dimas at Northview High School tonight at 6:30 p.m.
Below is my feature on coach Rice, who has been at Northview for 41 years.
By Steve Ramirez, SGVN
COVINA —Sometime around 8 p.m. on Thursday, Northview High School boys basketball coach Ron Rice will shake hands with San Dimas’ Bruce Robbins and call it a career.
Rice, who recently announced this season, his 41st as Northview, will be his last, ending, barring a spot in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs, his tenure when the Vikings host San Dimas in their Valle Vista League finale Thursday night at 6:30 p.m.
“It’s been a fun run,” said Rice, who has been head coach at Northview since the 1971-72 season and at the Covina school, first as a junior varsity coach, since 1969. “This year has been a little disappointing. We lost three of our top players before the season. We had to remove one kid, another kid quit and lost the third to a torn ACL that really hurt us. Someone asked me, ‘Is it disappointing to end it this way?’ I said, ‘You can’t let one year effect 40.’ It’s been a good run, and the last 10 have been a whole lot of fun.”
And Rice, whose teams have won or shared the Valle Vista League championship seven out of the past 10 seasons, has affected a lot of lives along the way. Several of his former players have gone on to bigger and better things, some choosing coaching as their life’s work, others incorporating what they learned from their coach into everyday life.
“Ron Rice was not only a basketball coach, but a teacher of life lessons through sports,” said Tim Roe, who was captain of the 1978 team. “I watched Ron raise two boys and play father to many players while I was growing up.
“He is a special man who never looked for the spot light. I’ve owned my business for 30 years, and my work ethic and drive came from the lessons I’ve learned from Ron Rice.”
Rice, who has 579 victories going into Thursday, said one of his biggest memories was his first game, a win over Covina and Valley legend Doc Sooter.
“The first win was obviously a thrill, beating a Doc Sooter-coached team,” Rice said. “Over the years, there have been so many, and so many good seasons.
“It’s really hard to put anything on it (after 41 years). But the thing I’ve enjoyed the most is the consistency we’ve had. Maybe not as many league championships as we’ve wanted, but we were always right there.”
Rice’s legacy, though, maybe in his coaching tree, which features some of the best in the area. It includes Bruce Alley, who was on his first team in 1972 and is now the athletic director at league foe Nogales; Greg Eckler, who has built one of the top programs in the area at Bonita, and Tim La Kose, who after playing for Rice in the 1980s has become one of the top collegiate women’s basketball coaches on the West coast, winning 319 games in 19 seasons, including the past two at San Jose State.
Alley, who has coached basketball and football, called Rice a mentor and friend.
“I’ll always have fond memories of Northview and coach Rice,” Alley said. “I coached for him, too. He was always supportive, a kind person.
“We’ve always kept in touch and talk about that first year.”
One of Alley’s biggest memories from those early years include that win over Covina, a close loss in the playoffs to Garey, but also 3-on-3 pickup games, which included Rice, then Northview coach Bill Odell (who later built Azusa Pacific University into a local power) and another assistant against three players from the team. Rice recalled those games, too.
“Bill really influenced my coaching,” Rice said. “He was a great coach. But it was Bill and I and either another coach, or we would pick up a kid against Bruce and two other kids. We’d play 3-on-3 here at the start of practice, and it was was really good for the kids. I was young and Bill was young and we played hard. We just battled, and it made those kids so much better, and it was so much fun.”
Other players to come through the program included Eric Wattree and Todd Quinsey, who were key pieces of league championship teams in the early 1990s, and Brian Johnson and Treavon Francis, two members of Rice’s final two league championship teams, winning titles in 2011 and 2012.
Rice has fond memories of all who came through the program.
“I’m really proud of some of those kids,” Rice said. “I say kids, some of them are 60-years-old. We’ve had a lot of them. Bruce (Alley) was a special athlete and did a great job in three sports here. Greg (Eckler), I gave him his start in coaching. I don’t think he was thinking of coaching until he coached our freshman team. Another one who has been successful is Tim La Kose, who is the women’s coach at San Jose State.
“Yeah, we’ve had some good ones. No one who was a great Division I or pro, but some fine kids. Tim was a very fine player, who averaged a lot of points before the 3-point line. Eric Wattree was a tremendous player for us, and Tim Roe back in the 1970s was an all-star kid.”
Rice, who did not coach the Vikings Tuesday at Nogales after getting two technicals in a game at Baldwin Park last week, has reflected on those memories in recent days. He’s not sure what he will feel on Thursday, but he does believe it will be emotional.
“It’s hard to tell what I’m going to feel,” said Rice, who will stay in the region, likely living in Orange County. “I’ve had a lot of good times in here (Northview’s gym).”