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Claremont is not known as a basketball town. It does, however, have its own basketball dynasty, with 3 noted coaches hailing from the City of Trees.

It started with Lowell Rice, who coached basketball at Claremont High School from 1983 to 1993, ending his run by guiding the Wolfpack to a Baseline League Championship.

Lowell’s sons, Dave and Grant, both of whom attended CHS and played for the Pack, have gone on to follow in his footsteps, taking a family passion to even greater heights. Dave is head basketball coach for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, while his younger brother Grant helms the varsity basketball team at Bishop Gorman, a Catholic high school in Las Vegas whose program is ranked in the nation’s top 10.

Lowell, who was a government teacher at CHS before his 2005 retirement, believes basketball imparts many lessons, not least of which is the power of collaboration.

“It’s a game where individual talent comes out but, more than that, it takes team play to win,” he said. “Teamwork’s the thing, and putting something ahead of you as an individual.”

Chris Thoits, a 1989 graduate of CHS, was coached by Lowell and played on the Wolfpack with Grant as well as with Dave, whose career he follows today.

“[Coach Rice] was a soft-spoken man who never yelled, but he got his message across,” Mr. Thoits said. “He was very concerned about people’s behavior morally and ethically. When you’re in high school, you think you’re going to make the MBA. But he could ground you and let you realize there’s more to life than basketball.”

If you want to succeed in the game, Lowell emphasized that you have to be persistent.

“As far as the boys taking up basketball as a profession, we joke and say that it’s in the genes, and to a great extent it was,” Lowell said. “But they are also both incredibly hardworking.” 

When Dave was 2, Lowell and his wife Linda, who is also an educator, volunteered to teach in Kenya. The family didn’t have a television, but Lowell arranged for alternate entertainment. He pulled a piece of wood from the side of a packing crate, nailed it to a Eucalyptus tree as a backboard, then attached a basketball hoop to it. Dave spent innumerable hours at his makeshift court.  

“I became a very good shooter, and so much of that comes from the fact that my dad taught me how to do it,” Dave said.

When Dave was 12 and Grant was nearly 6, the Rices moved back to the United States and to Claremont, where Dave drew inspiration from watching Lowell coach the Wolfpack. Eventually, he made it to the CHS varsity team himself and was coached by his father.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for us to spend time together doing something we both love,” he said.

After graduating from CHS in 1986, Dave went to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where he played under the legendary Jerry Tarkanian. One of his peak experiences as a Runnin’ Rebel was when his team won the 1990 National Championship, to the jubilation of Vegas basketball fans.

After Dave graduated in 1991, Coach Tarkanian offered him a position as assistant coach, a post he filled for 11 seasons. In 2004, Dave left to become assistant coach at Utah State. In 2005, he became assistant coach at Brigham Young University, where he was promoted to assistant head coach in 2008. He characterized his invitation to return as head coach for his alma mater in 2011 as an exciting opportunity.

Dave’s coaching philosophy is much like to his father’s.

“It’s about taking a group of individuals and trying to help them become a team,” he said.

The Las Vegas community has a special relationship with its home basketball team, regularly packing the nearly 19,000 seats in the UNLV arena. Lowell, who along with Linda regularly travels from Claremont to Las Vegas to take in their sons’ games, said the enthusiasm of the Runnin’ Rebels’ fans is infectious.

“It’s fantastic. It’s so loud and electric that you get excited,” he said.

Dave—who this year saw one of his players, Anthony Harris Bennet, go on to play with the Cleveland Cavaliers after being the first overall pick in the NBA draft—not only gets a boost from the crowds. He also derives a great deal of support from his brother Grant.

While Grant, a 1993 CHS graduate, is 6 ½ years younger than Dave, Lowell said his sons are more like twins. Like Dave, Grant played for his dad on the Wolfpack basketball team. After 2 years at Chaffey College, Grant took another page from Dave’s playbook, transferring to UNLV, where Dave was serving as assistant coach. Nowadays, the Rice boys talk every day. They have plenty to discuss, because Grant’s career coaching a high-powered high school team mirrors his older brother’s experience in many ways.

The Bishop Gorman Gaels have won the 4A Nevada State Championships 5 times since Grant became head basketball coach in 2002. Like the Rebs, the Gaels travel across the country, regularly play to packed stadiums and often have their games televised. Grant has also seen a couple of athletes he has coached go on to the NBA. A young CJ Watson, who went on to become a point guard for the Indiana Pacers, played for Bishop Gorman during Grant’s first year coaching there. Just this year, another of Grant’s players, 2012 Bishop Gorman graduate Shabazz Muhammad, was drafted to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

While he gets a kick out of such success stories, Grant emphasizes it’s the rare student who will reach the ultimate aim of being a professional athlete.

“One of my biggest goals is to give these kids an opportunity to play basketball in college and hopefully get a scholarship, ” he said.

Dave and Grant also share the off-the-court experience of parenting. Grant and his wife Brooke, a graduate of Claremont High School, have 3 children: Carli, 10, Blake, 9, and Drew, 7. Dave and his wife Mindy, an Upland High School graduate, have 2 boys: Travis, 15, and Dylan, 11.

Dylan was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum a number of years ago. While he is high functioning and mainstreamed in his schooling, Dave and his wife are well aware of the challenges that children with autism face and of the importance of early intervention.

With this in mind, they have founded the Dave Rice Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at education and the support of health initiatives benefiting those with developmental disorders such as autism. Last year the foundation, which recently added comedian and talk show host Jimmy Kimmel to its board, gave $100,000 to the UNLV Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders; this year, the foundation gave more than $250,000 in grants to local Las Vegas autism organizations.

Dave’s older son is poised to continue in the tradition of having a Rice coaching a Rice. Next year Travis, a sophomore at Bishop Gorman, will play on the Gaels’ varsity team, with his Uncle Grant as his coach.

Every team needs a cheerleader and, for the Rice family, that person is Linda, who has been married to Lowell for nearly 50 years. While she never played hoops herself, she grew up in Indiana, where “basketball was it.”

Linda met Lowell when both were attending Anderson University in Indiana. While he taught and coached at CHS, she served for many years as a principal in the Ontario-Montclair School District. As the matriarch in a family with 3 sports-minded gentlemen, she also pursued a second, unofficial career as basketball booster.

“I’ve put a in a lot of hours in the stands—I’ve attended thousands of games. Fortunately, I love the sport,” she said.

With the prominence of her sons’ coaching careers, Linda occasionally has to read negative press coverage, but she tries to take it with a grain of salt.

“In reality, the good goes with the bad and the wins come with the losses,” she said. “Luckily, there are lots of highs and not many lows.”

Linda has always strived to keep her sons grounded amid the ups and downs.

“When the boys were growing up, when they were going to a game, to school or to anywhere, I would always say to them, ‘Remember who you are,’” she said. “If you remember who you are, you will never stray from what is right.’”

And basketball continues to be the sport that is just right for the Rice family.

“For me, it’s the best game that’s ever been invented, just because I like it so much,” Lowell said.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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