Yes, the Rice Owls Will Play Basketball This Season
Ben Braun's tone is weary. His expression is resigned. His body language is tired. He's aware of the questions that he's about to face in the long day ahead of him, and he knows that if he's ever going to get a chance to talk about the future, he's going to have to first talk about the past.
John Royal Ben Braun must look back before going forward.
Braun, the head coach of the Rice Owls men's basketball team, sits at a table in a Irving, Texas, hotel conference room. Houston Cougars coach James Dickey is at the table across from him. Coaching legend and new SMU head coach Larry Brown is at a table up at the front of the room. Tim Floyd from UTEP, and Danny Manning, the new coach at Tulsa and former NCAA and NBA great, are also present, as are the women's basketball coaches at these schools.
Brown and Manning are surrounded by the press at this Conference USA media day because they're legends. Braun receives the attention because his team has been decimated by player defections during the off-season. It's not something Braun really wants to discuss -- he wants to talk about the guys who stayed and those who are coming.
Braun is a gentleman. He knows he has to talk, and he does. He doesn't disparage or denigrate the players who departed. He doesn't lash out at certain former members of his coaching staff. He just says the team has a problem. That mistakes were made, particularly in the types of players that were recruited and coaches who were hired. It's obvious he's hurt, though he won't say so. He just takes the high road.
"I understand, and I've granted releases to players that have come in because they wanted to gain more playing time," Braun said on Tuesday. "I've never told a kid he should leave. I've never taken a scholarship away from a player, and I never will, but if a player comes in and discusses an opportunity to want to play, that's something I have to listen to. That happens. Not just in our program...It can't happen a lot. And that's what I'm sensing, too. That's what I'm disappointed in, and that's what I have to fix. It can't happen -- I want to make sure we're doing everything we can."
He tried to get guys to stay. Told some of them unhappy with playing time that they'd get more playing time if they stayed. But they didn't listen, didn't want to listen.
"It's been tough," he said. "I'm not going to say it hasn't. I'm disappointed. I feel bad for so many guys that left because I feel that they would have gotten so many opportunities here, and how do you explain that to players; they have to figure that out on their own."
And there's his puzzlement over the places some of his players, former players, transferred to. Sure, the schools are bigger names than Rice. Sure, the schools are in better conferences. But the schools, their basketball programs, they're not better than Rice. Not better than what Rice would have been had they decided to stay.
John Royal Arsalan Kazemi and assistant coach Marco Morcos, two of the recent Rice basketball departures.