BEAVER FALLS, Pa. – Brian Rice has visited 60 countries on six continents but still longs to visit a place that has captured his imagination since his youth - the floor of a basketball court during a college game. At age 43, he's back in school and competing against people less than half his age to get that opportunity.
The U.S. Navy veteran is one of two walk-on players to earn a spot on the Geneva College men's basketball team. He's looking forward to the Golden Tornadoes' first game of the season Nov. 16 against Penn State - Fayette and hopes to earn a spot in the playing rotation.
“I may not be as fast as others, but nobody can outwork me,” he said. “And coach made it clear that whoever works the hardest will play.”
A high school standout, Rice thought of playing college ball but opted instead for a the Navy. He figured a tour of duty would give him a little money and some maturity. Thus began a military career that lasted a quarter century.
Rice said it was a rare day - of 8,800 days he spent in the Navy - that he didn't touch a basketball. He usually went up against much younger men, which made him believe he could compete against college players when he arrived back in the states last February.
A licensed minister, Rice is studying community ministry in the adult degree completion program at Geneva College, a private Presbyterian school that competes in Division III. Coach Jeff Santarsiero said he wasn't sure what to think when Rice approached him about playing.
“When you hear about a 43-year old wanting to play college basketball, you have some questions,” said Santarsiero.
Rice isn’t being treated as a “charity case," the coach insists, and he'll have to prove he can hold his own against much younger players.
That could prove difficult.
“We’ll just have to see if his knees are going to hold up," said Santarsiero. "He’s got to ice them after every practice.”
At 6- feet, 2 inches, and 200 pounds, Rice is versatile.
“I will rebound, play defense or whatever coach needs me to do," he said.
He's also formed solid relationships with other players who look to him for advice - about basketball and life.
“I have a responsibility to make my teammates better,” he said.
Details for this story were provided by the New Castle, Pa., News.