CORAL GABLES — There’s at least one player Jerry Rice can no longer beat one-on-one: his nephew, Darius.
At basketball, that is.
It makes sense. Jerry is 6-foot-2 and 40 years old. Darius is a 6-foot-10 junior forward with the Miami Hurricanes and blossoming into one of the best players in the Big East Conference.
So one-on-one hoops back home in Mississippi is no longer a fair fight.
“When I was little, he used to give it to me,” Darius said. “But now I’ve beaten him like the last 15 times, so he doesn’t want any more of that.”
Uncle Jerry will instead stick with what he does best. The most prolific receiver in NFL history bids for his fourth Super Bowl ring Sunday with Oakland against Tampa Bay.
The week’s already off to a good start for the Rice family. Darius scored 43 points, including a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer after he stole an inbound pass, to beat No. 11 Connecticut 77-76 Monday.
“One of the finest performances I’ve ever witnessed,” Miami coach Perry Clark said.
Rice said he drew inspiration not from the 17 NBA scouts credentialed for the game, but from the Raiders’ victory Sunday over Tennessee to clinch a Super Bowl berth.
“It was a good luck charm for me. I was really motivated,” Rice said. “I talked to my uncle after their game. He was in the middle of a party, so I didn’t want to interrupt him, but I told him good luck in the Super Bowl and that I’ll be watching.”
Darius plays a big game himself Sunday, when the Hurricanes (8-7, 1-3 Big East) host Syracuse (11-2, 2-1).
Rice has been a double-figures scorer for Miami since the start of his freshman year. This season he leads the team with 37 3-pointers and an average of 18.8 points per game.
But he has developed a reputation as a perimeter player reluctant to throw his 215 pounds around.
“He’s only a jump shooter,” UConn’s Ben Gordon said. “He doesn’t drive, so you know he’s going to shoot every time.”
Miami coach Clark describes Rice as a work in progress and teases him about keeping track of his point total during games.
“It’s amazing,” Clark said with a chuckle. “He knows exactly how many he has.”
Those point totals can vary wildly. Rice scored 71 points in two games against UConn and 32 against Florida, but he sank just one basket against Central Florida.
“I know it upsets Perry,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. “We’ve seen him twice, and he has played at great speed. And then I see in the box score that he sometimes has seven points.
“The 43 is exceptional, but the seven to me is much more mystifying than the 43 because he’s a great player, and great players can get those kind of points.”
The Hurricanes have started posting up Rice, where he can use his exceptional quickness to feast on tall defenders.
But he would rather shoot from outside. On a two-on-one fast break against UConn, Rice pulled up to swish a 3-pointer.
“I think coach almost had a heart attack,” he said with a laugh.
Rice knows his game needs more muscle, polish and versatility, and he plans to keep working hard — just like his uncle.
“I’ve been looking at his work ethic and how he stays focused for so long,” Darius said. “He’s 40 years old and still proving he can play the game. That’s what I’ve learned this year. I’m a lot more mature than I used to be and really focused.”
He said Uncle Jerry plans a trip to Miami after the Super Bowl to get a firsthand look at his nephew’s progress. Maybe Jerry will even let Darius beat him in a game of one-on-one.