Former Dakota Wizard Uses Basketball Skills to Help Kids

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Every Special Olympics athlete has the chance to learn a sport and become a better player, but not many can say they're learning from a former professional athlete.

What makes a good basketball coach?

Some might say a comprehensive knowledge of the game, or playing experience. Maybe it's patience, or a natural ability to lead and teach your players.

Luckily for Bismarck's Special Olympics program, Kevin Rice has all those qualities.

You may have heard of Rice. He's the former Dakota Wizard player and assistant coach whose jersey number the Wizards retired. His talent is not lost on the kids he coaches.

I asked one of his players, Jonathan Summers, why he liked to play basketball with Rice. His response was simple.

"Because he's good," Summers said.

Yes, Rice is pretty good. He was named the CBA defensive player of the year in 02-03. Now he's following his passion for coaching. After wrapping up a coaching gig at United Tribes, he decided to stay in Bismarck to work at the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch and help out with Special Olympics.

"It's just something that I like to do as far as working with kids. I've been working with kids, not just from my summer camps that I used to put on, but coaching and then playing with the Dakota Wizards," Rice explained. "I've always had a liking for kids and I saw this job was open and knew the kids were involved. So I gave it a shot."

Rice uses basketball as a tool to connect with the kids.

"Just try to steer them in the right direction, and a lot of times we play a lot of basketball at the job," Rice said. "It kind of, still keeps me in the basketball mind frame and have fun while I'm doing it."

He sees the positive effects the game has on the kids.

"It gives them that relaxed moment, that getaway moment that they need at times," he said. "And you know me being a former basketball player, they kind of tend to take to what direction or lessons I give."

Those lessons and directions will hopefully pay off for his team at the upcoming North Dakota Special Olympics basketball tournament.

That state tournament is next weekend, March 13th and 14th in Minot.