Players Defend Fired Rutgers Coach

"I want to tell everybody who has believed in me that I’m deeply sorry for the pain and the hardship that I’ve caused," coach says.

By David Chang
|  Thursday, Apr 4, 2013  |  Updated 12:33 AM EDT
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In the aftermath of the Rutgers basketball coach firing, NBC10's Cydney Long sat down exclusively with senior Austin Johnson, a Rutgers forward who played under Coach Rice. Johnson called Rice a role model and mentor. In video that surfaced, the former coach is shown yelling at and shoving Rutgers players on the court.

NBC10.com - Cydney Long

In the aftermath of the Rutgers basketball coach firing, NBC10's Cydney Long sat down exclusively with senior Austin Johnson, a Rutgers forward who played under Coach Rice. Johnson called Rice a role model and mentor. In video that surfaced, the former coach is shown yelling at and shoving Rutgers players on the court.

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While everyone from Lebron James to Gov. Chris Christie has spoken out against Mike Rice, two men who played for the former college basketball coach are coming to his defense.

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Rutgers University fired Rice on Wednesday in the wake of a backlash over a video that went viral. The footage, broadcast Tuesday on ESPN, shows him shoving players and hurling basketballs as well as anti-gay slurs at players during practice.

Austin Johnson, a Senior and forward on the team, as well as one of the players who appears in that video, spoke to NBC10's Cydney Long in an exclusive interview.

"I know that the tape looks a certain way but I feel like it's not a full telling of what really went on," he said.

Credit: Youtube.com/ESPN

Johnson insists he never once felt physically or verbally abused during Rice's practices. He also says he and his teammates never even discussed going to school administrators about Rice's actions.

"I feel like everything that happened was just speaking to his intensity as a coach and how much he wanted to win," he said. "Coach Rice was great to me. I'm surprised, I'm shocked and I'm a little saddened. That's generally the consensus of the whole team."

Johnson claims Rice inspired him and others to do well academically and referred to the video as a, "harsh highlight reel."

"It's a highlight reel of all the wrongdoings that went on during our practices," he said. "You don't really get to see everything else that goes on during practices."

Before coaching at Rutgers, Rice also served as the assistant men's basketball coach at St. Joseph's University from 2004 to 2006. Peter Kathopoulis, a former member of that team, claimed that Rice made the players improve during his time there though he did admit that Rice did a bit of "name-calling."

"He did some of that while we were practicing," said Kathopoulis. "But it wasn't something derogatory or negative in regards to making the player feel bad. It was always just a push to make him excel in their position or field."

A spokesperson for St. Joe's stated that Rice left the university on positive terms.

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