King Rice finally has the chance to coach one of his kids, and he wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not even for the chance to go back in time and start coaching him four years earlier.
That seemed like a possibility—the coaching, not the time travel—when Xander Rice, the older of the Monmouth men’s basketball coach’s two sons, was deciding on his college destination back in 2019. Instead, Xander committed to Bucknell, where he played four seasons for the Bison, led the team in scoring and assists as a senior, and earned a psychology degree. His dad insists that Xander choosing not to play for him back then was best for both of them.
“I wasn’t mature enough,” King Rice says. “I would’ve been pushing him so hard I probably would’ve messed up his college experience.”
Xander says his dad is being too hard on himself—“I think we would’ve figured it out,” he says but they agree that their belated pairing was worth the wait. Weighing his options for a post graduate transfer last summer, Xander eschewed interest from high-major programs—reportedly including six-figure name, image, and likeness licensing offers—and chose Monmouth, where he’s spending his final season of college eligibility leading the way for the Hawks. And for his dad.
King Rice says the process wasn’t as clear-cut as outsiders might assume. It was Xander who first broached the subject of where he should spend a post-grad year, and King said he felt it was “a no-brainer” that Xander would come “home” to Monmouth; a fixture at games and practices, he’d practically grown up in the Hawks’ gym, and both knew that Xander’s mom, Summer, and his younger brother, Julian, would be thrilled to have him around. But King Rice insisted that if Xander was interested, he’d leave it to his staff—particularly assistant coaches Rick Callahan and Brian Reese—to recruit his son. “If he was coming here,” King Rice says, “it was going to be because it was best for him.”
It’s turned out to be a perfect fit for all involved.
“He’s been incredible,” King Rice says. “He’s even better as a player than I thought he was—he can score from all three levels, and he’s better on defense than I thought. And the way he’s taken over a leadership role, the way he puts in the work, and just how he handles himself, the younger guys really look up to him.”
His high school coach once said to me, ‘How do you grow up in such a beautiful place and still have an edge on the court?’ He’s a tough competitor, because he hates losing. Everybody wants a kid like him on their team.
It didn’t take his teammates long to realize Xander, a 6-foot-3 point guard, was a special addition to the roster. Back in November, in just the second game of the season, the Hawks traveled to Morgantown, West Virginia, to take on the Mountaineers. Xander Rice scored 30 points to lead Monmouth to a 73-65 road upset of the Big 12 hosts. Through 20 games, he was averaging a team-high 21.1 points along with 3.1 assists, production he credits to “playing with consistent confidence, which I kind of struggled with in the past. I think that’s the biggest thing for me, because this team needs me to do a lot on both ends of the floor.”
In that, he shares much in common with his father. King Rice was the higher-profile recruit, earning McDonald All-America honors as a high school point guard and going on to captain the 1991 North Carolina Tar Heels to the NCAA Final Four. Xander has three inches on his dad, and King Rice says that’s not the only way his son has surpassed him.
“He’s way smarter than me,” the coach says. “He can do all the things you would think a coach’s son does, and he’s tough. He grew up down here, and his high school coach once said to me, ‘How do you grow up in such a beautiful place and still have an edge on the court?’ He’s a tough competitor, because he hates losing. Everybody wants a kid like him on their team.”
Their shared competitiveness is invaluable, but also, both admit, occasionally combustible: Xander laughs when he says he sometimes comes home heated after a rough practice, “and my mom’s mad at my dad because he made me mad, and I just stay in my room.” But the difficult moments have been far outweighed by the good ones, both on and off the court. Just as Xander has no regrets about going away for college, he has no second thoughts about coming home for one last year.
“Being here has been a learning curve, but really it’s been a dream come true,” he says. “I can go home, hang out with my little brother, my mom and my dad, and my dog. It’s something I’ve really appreciated.”
For his part, King Rice calls the situation “a blessing.” And the best part of coaching his son? Easy: “To see him having success, and just to see him smiling on the court.”