"You want to hear a good Mike Rice story?"
I'm sure that sentence has been uttered a few times over the last week or so. I heard it from a former Niagara University athletic employee, who was working on Monteagle Ridge when Rice served one year as an assistant coach under Jack Armstrong in 1997-98.
Rice, as you might have heard (and how funny was the Melissa McCarthy skit on SNL), was fired as Rutgers head men's basketball coach after ESPN aired footage of him verbally and physically abusing players during practice. The athletic director, who had seen the video months before, also lost his job.
Anyway, Niagara had just won a home game over Loyola in January of '98, snapping a three-game losing streak. But after the win, a trainer ran to the athletic offices and said there was trouble in the training room. When the employee in question arrived, Rice was lying on the floor, blood everywhere.
"I mean, he was laid out on the floor of the training room," the former NU employee said. "Evidently, he had started getting after Kandia Milton after the game, saying 'Your boys aren't getting it done. Your boys, your boys ... "
Milton, who had been a Niagara co-captain a few years earlier, was in his first year as a restricted earnings coach. As our source recalls it, Milton worked with the guards, who weren't exactly stellar defenders in those days.
"Kandia says, 'Mike shut up, I'm tired of you'. Then, boom, he lays him out. There's blood all over the place ."
Rice was hurt badly enough to require hospital treatment. Tom Parrotta, who later would become head coach of Canisius, was a Niagara assistant at the time and present during the TKO.
"On the way back from the hospital, Tom said, 'If you think I was stopping it, you're crazy'," the staffer said. It turns out Rice had ripped into Parrotta just two weeks earlier after a weight-lifting session and Parrotta knocked him flat, too. "Rice was that sort of guy. He had tunnel vision and once he got that way, he was just maniacal."
Armstrong got fired after the '97-98 season. Joe Mihalich took over and was asked which assistant coaches he should retain. He was told that Milton and Parrotta were OK. Rice, uh, no.
Of course, Milton was no angel. A year later, he moved back to his native Detroit and became a top assistant in the administration of his old friend, mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Milton briefly served as interim mayor when Kilpatrick went to jail for bond violations in 2008. A year later, Milton, who cooperated in the investigation of Kilpatrick, pleaded guilty to bribery charges and served a year in prison.
Milton returned to politics last December, working for U.S. Rep. Gary Peters. Hey, maybe there's hope for Rice in basketball yet.