Almost no team in the country has seen their spotlight accelerate quicker than the Monmouth Hawks did two weeks ago.
Already with a win over UCLA in their season opener, the Hawks became the second team in MAAC history to finish in 3rd place at the AdvoCare Invitational; beating Notre Dame and USC in the process. Every aspect of the Hawks reached national prominence from junior Justin Robinson’s scoring display to the display shown on the Monmouth bench.
“Our kids, I wanted them to have fun, but how do you control that,” Rice said. “For our school, we needed that. We feel like we have a great place over here and we needed some kind of way to get people to know.”
But with that increased spotlight, and an AP Poll vote for the first time, came a target which Canisius managed to humble the Hawks Friday with a barrage of 16 three-pointers.
“That is really new for our program, we were the guys that were trying to give our best effort against the upper echelon of the teams and now people are coming after us, well that takes some getting used to,” Rice said. “I dealt with some of that when I played at North Carolina, but then as a coach, I haven’t dealt with it and definitely not as a head coach, so it’s definitely new.”
“I believe we have the right kids to deal with it, but it is our first time where we’re so far taking people’s best shots. I like this side much much better than being the ones that we had to put the target on everybody else’s back.”
That target on the back, which Rice dismisses to being on Iona – the conference’s regular season champion last year – but he knows that their gradual improvement has been noticed around the league. He wants his team to stay in the mindset of continuing to work, under that shadow of the Gaels, but there is a chance that teams will anticipate the Hawks arrival. The head coach, in his fifth season, knows how sensitive the situation could change on a young roster.
“We talk to them a lot about these things and keeping your head in the right place,” Rice said. “Mental is to physical as four is to one, just all kinds of things to try and help them keep their heads in the right place.”
Now the Hawks will try to get used to something they have yet to handle so far this season: play a home game. Monmouth plays their home opener Sunday against Wagner, a team that just beat MAAC rival Rider and is riding a five-game win streak.
“I hope our kids aren’t too nervous when you come home and you haven’t been home yet,” Rice said. “All your friends on campus are buzzing, you get there and now you might have our best non-conference crowd in a while, there’s a possibility of that.”
“Hopefully our kids won’t be nervous and we just go out and play Monmouth basketball the way we’ve been doing. I think we’ll be fine, but I am so hopeful that our building is filled up as good as it can be.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.