North Texas Daily

Freshman basketball center Rickey Brice Jr. joins Mean Green family to stay close to his own

Freshman basketball center Rickey Brice Jr. joins Mean Green family to stay close to his own

November 25
14:26 2015

Torie Mosley | Staff Writer

@toriemosley

When athletes commit to a university, there’s always a variety of factors to weigh. Location, playing time and a coach’s scheme are just a few of the elements athletes consider.

For freshman center Rickey Brice Jr., it was all about keeping it in the family.

Brice comes from the small town of Pantego, Texas, which resides in Tarrant County in the Cross Timbers area about 10 miles southeast of the Tarrant County Courthouse in Fort Worth. Approximately one square mile in area, the city has a mere 2,394 citizens, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

“It’s in the middle of nowhere from one block to another,” Brice said. “No one really knows about it because it’s one little city in Arlington. We stick together and make everyone feel important.”

And Brice wasn’t lying. Per the city’s official website, Pantego’s mission statement reads, “Pantego shall strive to be a premier community in which to live, work and retire, while maintaining our small-town atmosphere.”

Pantego means so much to Brice because the most important aspect of his life resides there: his grandmother, Zenobia Riser.

Brice turned down offers from top-tier universities such as Texas Christian University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Texas, Louisiana State University, Texas Tech University and the University of Southern California to stay close to his favorite person in the world.

“My grandma’s disabled from having knee replacements, so she can’t go to certain places to watch me play,” Brice said. “I could’ve went to other schools, but I chose UNT because I wanted her to watch me play. And she can come whenever she feels like.”

Riser has had two knee replacements, which has made Brice cherish the time he has with her and look at his own life differently.

“Her being weak showed me that everything we have in life is not promised,” Brice said. “I talk to her every day. She goes to all of the home games.”

Brice got his love of basketball from his father, Rickey Brice Sr. When he was in college, he played at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin – the same historically black college that Hall of Fame Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson once attended.

Brice said his father saw the potential in him as a basketball player that many couldn’t see.

“When I was young, I was short and chubby, and a lot of people said I wasn’t going to make it,” Brice said. “They thought I was lazy, but my dad put me with the best to be the best.”

Currently standing at 7-foot-1-inch and 278 lbs, it didn’t take long for teams and coaches to notice the big man from a small town.

He even towered over the competition when he was a freshman in high school, clocking in at 6-foot-9-inches. That helped land Brice a spot on the varsity team, despite his many critics.

“That was a big step, because everybody doubted me in the eighth grade,” Brice said. “They were telling me, ‘You’re not good enough to go to varsity.’ But I was telling myself that I can be on that level, and I’m pretty sure I’m better than them.”

Playing in Pantego was a unique experience compared to other leagues. For starters, Brice said he was one of only a few black athletes at Pantego Christian Academy, which played in a league of primarily white players.

“It was very different,” he said. “They expect a lot out of you. But at the same time, you still have to work hard on and off the court just to get the same recognition as the other athletes.”

Brice did just that in four years at PCA. The center holds the school record for most career points with 24 points per game, rebounds with 14 per game, and blocks with five per game.

And that’s an accomplishment he’s proud of.

“Growing up in Pantego, I would always see other players with the most points, blocks and rebounds,” Brice said. “So I told myself in middle school I had to be the best in every stat. Those records will probably be there my whole life.”

After signing with North Texas last November, Brice became the first center 7-feet or taller to play for the Mean Green since Sean Riley in 1994, before Brice was even born. He uses his height for a multitude of things, including getting rebounds, blocking shots and stealing the ball, all while protecting the paint.

“You don’t see someone who’s 7-foot-1 every day,” he said. “So I have to use every ability I have to help the team in every way.”

Joining head coach Tony Benford at North Texas was an easy decision once he got to know Benford. Brice said he sees Benford as a father figure – a compliment Benford does not take for granted.

“I’ve been doing this for almost 25 years, and I understand he has all the tools to be a great player,” Benford said. “He’s really passionate and works hard, so I know it’s only a matter of time before people find out who he really can be.”

Graduate forward Eric Katenda echoed his coach’s sentiments and said he feels proud to call Brice his teammate.

“He’s such a young player that’s way bigger and better than he’s supposed to be at his age,” Katenda said. “Or any age, at that.”

Brice averaged seven points, six rebounds and two blocks through the Mean Green’s first two games. As the season goes on, his grandmother, father and the Mean Green faithful will see how far he can help take North Texas basketball.

“With [Jeremy] Combs, [J-Mychal] Reese, Deandre [Harris] and [Eric] Katenda, this team has everything it needs to be great,” Brice said.

Featured Image: Freshman center Rickey Brice Jr. (23) is the first seven foot player since 1994 at North Texas. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

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