Rice basketball is headed in the right direction and Scott Pera has been tasked with turning that momentum into meaningful results in 2020 and beyond.
Seven. Thirteen. Fifteen. The gradual improvement of the Rice basketball team under head coach Scott Pera can be measured in a somewhat linear fashion. On the most rudimentary metric, wins, Pera’s squad has shown tangible improvement following his first year at Rice in 2017.
Rice finished 15-17 this past season, one win away from a .500 record. “I’m excited about where we’re going with this,” Pera said with passion, knowingly declaring a truth he believes runs much deeper than the win column could ever dictate. That’s because Pera came to Rice with the long game in mind.
Refusing to cut corners and committed to building things “the right way”, Pera has stuck to his guns this far. He’s endeavored to build a program rooted in players who love the challenge Rice affords, who know how to win and who are committed to working each and every day to get better. It sounds a bit like coach-speak, but there’s rich truth behind those ideals.
“Character counts in this business,” Pera declared, stressing culture and process over instant gratification. He believes that gratification isn’t far off.
“We’re close,” he said detailing the next few hurdles he sees in front of his team. For Pera, he views those next steps as establishing the program as a top-five finisher in the conference, one that always makes the Conference USA Tournament and routinely wins a few games in Frisco. Yes, a championship is the end goal, but Pera is committing to charting the course to get there, and then get back again, and again.
To get there takes building blocks that go beyond the box score. The maturity of the roster as a whole is something Pera routinely evaluates. He’s not afraid to step aside and let the leaders in the locker room lead. The Owls have reached a point in their development that Pera has full confidence they know the kind of self-talk they need to motivate themselves, even midgame.
That resolve was put on display frequently. Erratic defensive performances put the Owls in double-digit holes throughout the season but Rice lost just four conference games by 10 or more points. They won five by double-digit margins. In nonconference play, they overcame a 22-point deficit to beat UC Santa Barbara on the road.
On the bad shooting days, Rice struggled to keep pace with their better opponents. Nevertheless, it was rare for the Owls to enter the final quarter of play without a fighting chance to win. The worse results came on the road with Rice losing only one game at home (vs Sam Houston State) by more than eight points. More often than not Rice was competitive and that energy has staying power.
The Owls were inconsistent, but they never lacked effort. At times, they were undisciplined but they never quit. Those are makings of a team with the right mental makeup to take another developmental step.
There’s no doubt seniors Ako Adams and Robert Martin made a tremendous impact. But the poise and influence of sophomores like Drew Peterson, Trey Murphy and Chris Mullins project a mentality Pera believes he can build on. Peterson emerged as a bonafide leader this season, one of several faces to turn to in times of struggle.
“It’s a process, it’s a growth, it’s a vision that now is really, really exciting. We enter Year 4 with this group coming back,” Pera said. “I’m looking forward to seeing these guys make the next step.”
By his own standard, Pera’s team should be a contender in Conference USA next season. Whether or not they reach that mantel will be determined by their effort and focus from now until November. Pera will put in the work. If he can get his team to maintain his level of focus, the future of Rice basketball could be as bright as he believes it to be. Only time will tell.