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Rutgers player and a former student manager defend Mike Rice

By Matt Norlander | Staff Writer

Collected screengrabs from the leaked practice videos that led to Mike Rice's firing. (AP)

When Mike Rice was first suspended back in December for his brutal practice tactics, players on the team were "a little bit shocked," according to a story Monday on TheBigLead.com.

Senior Austin Johnson told Big Lead Sports, "We couldn't have seen it coming. The consensus was shock. Then he served his suspension and I thought it was over with.”

It was over with -- until season's end. Rutgers finished its season with a loss to Notre Dame in the Big East tournament on March 13, wrapping up a 15-16 record. But three weeks later, the infamous video of Rice using gay slurs and pelting players with basketballs in practice surfaced, and on April 3 -- less than 24 hours after the video became public -- Rice was fired.

Johnson and former team manager Seth Mucha (who was not with the program for the 2012-13 season after graduating last May) defended Rice as a coach and his behavior in practice to Big Lead Sports' Jason McIntyre.

“At this level, some of that is to be expected,” said Johnson, a hulking, 6-foot-8, soft-spoken 23-year-old who commands attention when he enters a room. “When we did go through it, we understood it, and we analyzed it. That's part of being at this level.”

To them, Rice was just like any other college coach, trying to get the most out of his players.

Mucha, who was a student manager during Rice's first two seasons before graduating in 2012, said the coach's outbursts depicted in the wince-worthy video were extremely rare, and maybe happened “once every couple weeks or every month.” He added, “[Rice's] intentions were to get the most out of his players. I was there for two years and I never thought he was trying to hurt anyone.” ...

“He was wrong for what he did and how he went about it,” Johnson said. “But I know his intentions were to try to change the culture and turn Rutgers into a winning program.”

Mucha chimed in: “If you made a mistake, he was going to get on you -- correcting it so you didn't make the same mistake twice.”

Johnson said he could not recall Rice ever grabbing him or throwing balls at him but added Rice wasn't selective in his anger/targets, either.

Both said Rice's demeanor in practice was different in the wake of his initial suspension; though not with the team this past season, Mucha did attend occasional practices, according to the story.

Since the firing, Rutgers and Rice's attorney have agreed to buyout terms. Though not publicly announced yet, the school has agreed to terms with its next coach, alumnus Eddie Jordan, according to reports.

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