The Pursuit of Happiness
A Q+A with international hooper Tyrese Rice.
SLAM: Last summer you played in the NBA Summer League. Do you still feel your NBA dream is alive?
TR: [Summer League] is good in a lot of ways. NBA teams, scouts and players can see you. And it’s also good because there are also a lot of European scouts as well. It’s almost a win-win situation. You go out there and play; one person likes you and then you have a job for next year. It’s a good opportunity for me to play and be seen.
SLAM: You’re only 24 years old. What things would you like to prove in your game as a top-caliber player in Europe?
TR: There are a lot of things that I could improve. Consistency in three-point shooting, rebounding the ball better defensively. I can do a lot of things but I think the main thing I have to do is just focus and get it done. At the end of the day, there’s nobody that is going to stop yourself from being better but yourself.
SLAM: Have you ever imagined, especially in your senior year in college, that you might start your career overseas, not in the NBA?
TR: I really never though about it. Like I said, I always take things in a moment. If it was meant for me to go the NBA, I would be going to the NBA. If it’s going overseas, that’s fine. I never looked at it as a failure or I’m not successful in life. I feel like at the the end of the day, I do what I love to do and that’s play basketball.
SLAM: Last season you played in a small 12,000-person town in Germany, Quakenbruck. Was it tough to live in a such small town, considering you previously lived in Athens and Boston?
TR: Not really. I’d been all over as a kid. In the summer time, going to different places and being there for weeks. I didn’t think it was that tough. Actually, I think it was really good because I was there, there was nothing to do and I knew I have to focus on basketball and become a better player. I though it was actually great because I stayed right across the street from the gym. There wasn’t much to do, so I went to the gym all the time. I think it was a great thing for me.
SLAM: In those two seasons in Europe, who surprised you the most?
TR: It’s just a really different game. Players here in Europe, I think they think the game better than American players, in my opinion. They really read the game a lot better. As you see, players come over from NBA, D-League, they play in Europe and they don’t last over a month, because it’s a totally different game. Off the court, it’s a different culture. If you’ve been to different places in the States then you can go to different places in Europe. The biggest thing to me is food. Just getting used to the food. Everything else is pretty much the same.
SLAM: Are there any funny or interesting stories you could share?
TR: I got lost in Athens one time. I was about an hour and 30 minutes away from my house. I was thinking I was going on the right way [laughs]. I remember I asked an officer how to get back to where I live he started laughing like, ‘Are you serious? Do you know how far from your house you are right now?’ I had no idea where I was. I thought I was in Athens but really far away from my house. It took me about an hour and 30 minutes to get back home. It was like 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. It was really late and that was crazy.
SLAM: A lot of NBA guys are moving overseas for the first time. What is the best advice you could give them?
TR: I think they just have to embrace the culture. If you come over here thinking that this is going to be anything like home, then you’re wrong. It’s better when you’re in bigger cities. Vilnius is good, there’s a lot of malls, lots of things to do. But you might get to the smaller city like I was in last year and I didn’t know what to do.
SLAM: Have you ever thought about playing in the D-League?
TR: I thought about it but not much. I just want to go out and have fun playing basketball and be able to provide the right things for my family. To play in D-League is OK, but playing in the Euroleague to me is the second-best thing to playing in the NBA. If you can’t play in the NBA and you play in the Euroleague, you are almost just as good.
SLAM: Talking about your new team, why did you decide to sign with Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius this summer?
TR: I thought it was great situation for myself. I knew they had a new coach coming in and I heard a lot of good things about him. I knew some players coming here and I knew we were going to have a great team. And being able to qualify for the Euroleague was another great thing. I thought it would be good for any player’s resume.
SLAM: Once you got here, you said you were ready to lead this team. After those friendly games, do you still see yourself as a leader of Lietuvos Rytas?
TR: I’m still just learning my teammates. I think I can be one of the leaders of this team. I’m not coming over here and trying to take over but being a point guard, I have to be able to turn the team in the right direction.
SLAM: Did you have a chance to practice with Jonas Valanciuas or see him playing?
TR: He didn’t practice with us yet but I have seen him play. I know he’s going to help me and I really think I can help him also. He’s going to be a really good player.
SLAM: Did you watch EuroBasket 2011, which was held in Lithuania?
TR: Actually, I watch it every year. I watched the European Championships and World Championships. There are a lot of guys who you may not have ever heard of. But they are great in Europe—you just didn’t hear about them at home. Watching EuroBasket is like watching a bunch of great players playing at one time. It’s good to watch different people and learn from them.
SLAM: You probably saw Bo McCalebb’s superb performance at EuroBasket 2011. Would you consider an offer to play for a European country if you get one?
TR: If that opportunity came on my away, I would probably take it. I don’t see how it could hurt me and my career. It can only make me better. More experience and more people would see me. It would be a great opportunity.
SLAM: I guess you heard that Ty Lawson will be playing for Zalgiris this season. What was your first reaction and are you waiting for your first match-up against him?
TR: Definitely, it was always fun to play against Ty since I was a kid. For us to play each other at professional level, it’s always good. When I first heard about that, I didn’t believe it, and I actually called him to ask, ‘So you signed to go play pro in Lithuania?’ and he’s like, ‘Yeah.’ He probably took the opportunity to come and see something different and play a different style of basketball. That should help his career a lot.
Erildas Budraitis is a European-based basketball writer, currently working for RealGM.com and contributing to SLAMonline. You can follow him on Twitter @erildas and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.