Negative stigmas follow Detroit, and native son Deon Rice won’t deny the city’s many ills, from inner-city poverty and high crime to a crumbled infrastructure and more than 10 percent unemployment rate.
A denial would mean the now-Elizabeth City State player forgetting about his best friend being stabbed 36 times, watching another friend gunned down on the street and another serving a prison sentence for assault.
The Vikings senior guard refuses to let the stigmas define him.
“Every time I look up it’s something,” said Rice, who will play his last ECSU home game along with Blake Price, Quintin Spady, Malachi Jackson and Angelo Sharpless today against Bowie State. “I think about it every day, and basketball and school has helped me stay away from those things.
“When you think about it so much, you realize out of a lot of people, I made it. You know them for so long and then they’re gone, it doesn’t seem real half the time.”
Basketball has served as Rice’s getaway from the Motor City madness, shooting hoops for hours every day as an outlet to steer clear of cruel inner-city neighborhood influences.
The Vikings’ second leading scorer, at a 10.7-point clip per contest, finally found his safe haven at Elizabeth City State, his third and final school after shuffling through two Detroit-area community colleges, by the 2010-11 season.
Rice wants nothing more than to paint a picture that better promotes his roots — it’s just hard to find the right brush strokes.
“When people say Detroit, they think, ‘Oh, you go there, and you will get shot,’” Rice said. “If you come to Detroit with me, it’s good. Nothing’s going to happen, I won’t take you around where people do this and that, and I don’t hang around bad people.
“I want to make it in life, so hanging around bad people won’t help me make it in life.
“And there’s sometimes you get in situations that you can’t handle because it’s spur of the moment. I was in a bad neighborhood, but I wasn’t expecting anything to happen like that.”
But it almost happened anyway.
Days before his arrival at ECSU, Rice looked with horror just a block away as one of his friends was shot down by a spray of gunfire while going into a corner store.
Then it got worse.
“All we heard was shooting and the people doing the shooting saw us in the street, so they realized we were witnesses,” Rice said. “They came up on us, and we ran, and they did more shooting towards us, but we were able to get away.
“Everything happened so fast. I’ve never experienced anything like that ever, so it was a shock and a blessing it didn’t happen to me, because anything could’ve happen. It’s a blessing I was able to make it here and play basketball and go to school.”
When grades and a low ACT score kept his talent off the radar of college recruiters out of high school, Rice resorted to the community college route in the hopes of improving his studies and being seen by larger schools.
On a tip from family in the Detroit area, Vikings coach Shawn Walker was one of the onlookers during an open gym session, and although he was in the market for post players, Walker couldn’t bypass the abilities of the 6-5, 190-pound guard as the best in the arena.
And once he met the Detroit native with a flair for scoring on and off the dribble, he left even more impressed with his workmanship attitude and strong character.
“There’s a lot of good kids that happen to grow up in an inner-city environment,” Walker said. “A lot of times you have to get the opportunity to talk to them and find out what their aspirations are in life.
“Although my recruitment with Deon was a short one, he was ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No sir’ and jumped right on top of the responsibilities that we requested of him. That shows a lot about a kid, like even something simple when you ask for a transcript, and you don’t have to call and remind him three or four times.
“He’s come here and not let us down. He hasn’t been in any trouble, and I don’t expect him to get into any in his life, so he will leave here and do very well for himself.”
Admittedly not the best student, Rice has kept up with his studies and is still on track to graduate in December with a business administration degree. He would be the first in his family to graduate from college, and looks towards starting a T-shirt business or a career playing basketball overseas.
Rice’s successful attempt to leave home was the ultimate wish from his mother.
Now he’s set to pick up mom today off a flight from Detroit to Norfolk International Airport so she can see his last home game.
“There’s a lot of inspiration because I’m not just doing this for myself, I’m doing this for my kids and my family back home,” Rice said. “That’s what motivated me to stay on track and not go on the wrong path to mess up my future.
“I have three brothers as well, and they look up to me as a role model. I’m going to be the first member of my family to graduate from college. I wanted to make that accomplishment for my family and show them I was raised to be good and not fail.”