Last year, Monmouth’s basketball program received national recognition – not necessarily for their success on the floor, though the Hawks did win 28 games, but because they had the most entertaining bench in the country. Yes, Monmouth’s Bench Mob became must-see TV.
Head coach King Rice didn’t mind.
“Not at all,” Rice said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I thought it was very organic how it started. These kids are great kids. Greg (Noack) will be graduating this year. Dan (Pillari) is a kid that’s been on the dean’s list. They were the two leaders. Louie (Pillari is) playing a lot of minutes right now, and Justin’s brother is basically signing rap music contracts here pretty soon. So they’re talented, talented kids, and I truly believe you should put kids out in front. And the way it started was those guys pumping up our players. We never were disrespectful, so I just let it go. I’m glad that it gave our school a lot of recognition, our team a lot of recognition and also those four young men.”
Not everyone, however, loved the Bench Mob. Believe it or not, Rice received negative emails about it from some angry fans.
“(They said) I was a disgrace as a coach for letting people do that on the bench,” Rice said. “But I watch games a lot on TV, and you see James Harden’s commercial. He has a bench shot where kids are celebrating on the bench. I think it made people feel like, ‘If I’m not playing, I’m still a major part of a team.’ I’m an old-school guy, too. I base my stuff on a lot of North Carolina things, but I think to be successful at this time, you have to be a little bit of new-school also. You have to change with the times. I think the younger guys that are getting chances now, you have to change with the kids and you have to be willing to look at it and take some chances. I just thought it was fun, and it was great for our school. I’m sorry if it offended anybody.”
Rice, who led Monmouth to the second round of the NIT last season, has guided the Hawks (26-5) to 16 straight wins. The Hawks haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2006, but this could be their year.
That’s a far cry from Rice’s first three seasons at Monmouth, which ended with records of 12-20, 10-21 and 11-21.
“As a head coach, I came in the door and it was like, ‘We’re doing it like this, and it better be like this, and you have to do it like this’ – and we weren’t winning at all,” said King, who played at North Carolina from 1987-1991. “We were doing all the right things that I learned how to do, but I needed to learn how to relate to these kids as a head coach. I was too demanding. We weren’t having any fun. We were doing great in school. Everybody’s grades got better, but they weren’t having a true college experience. College is supposed to be fun. Even though we were here to play basketball and all that stuff too, college is supposed to be (about) when you’re young and you grow up and you learn what you can and can’t do, and I think I was limiting my kids by being too hard on them. I had to back up a little bit and understand they’re young kids. They’re going to make mistakes sometimes. But when you put the spotlight on them, they’re pretty fun. They’re smart and they’re bright and they’re entertaining, and they can do so many things. I think we showed the world that these kids are bright, funny guys.”