Antonio Burks

Courtesy photo

Rice coach Antonio Burks received a plaque and the game ball after winning his 100th game at Rice, where he is now 100-41 in his fifth year.

It came so fast, like a whirlwind out of nowhere or a fastbreak on the court, the kind that can change a game.

Antonio Burks has done all that and more at Rice, where he has changed the game and the climate and lifted the basketball culture to new heights.

Burks always did love that fast-paced, up-and-down the court offense, and that’s where it has taken him as a coach.

  Here he is in just his fifth year of his first coaching job, and he has already won 100 games.

No. 100 came Tuesday night at home against Blooming Grove with a 63-47 victory.

“I’m thankful we were able to have him come here,” said Rice Athletic Director Andy Mills, who made Burks one of his first hires when he took the job five years ago.

“He’s done a heck of a job,” he said. “The kids love him. He gets the most out of his kids and they love to play for him.”

Mills presented Burks with a plaque that read 100 wins, and the basketball from Tuesday’s game.

Then Burks thanked a lot of people and gave credit to his wife, Kim, saying “She’s my backbone. She does so much — the spirit she gives me, the confidence she gives me.”

You could say the same for Burks, who has brought a new spirit to Rice basketball and built a program that wins year-in and year-out no matter who is on the court.

Burks has had some talented players, but he has a gift for bringing the best from whoever plays for him, and his teams take the court with confidence and pride.

Burks asked for a moment of silence as a tribute to Kobe Bryant, who died Sunday in a tragic helicopter accident.

“He was one of my heroes,” Burks said, “and I played against his Dad when I played basketball in Japan, where his Dad was the coach of the other team.”

Burks played pro ball in Europe and Japan before he found a home at Rice, where the basketball teams were competitive but often had trouble reaching the playoffs.

Rice has reached the playoffs all four years Burks has been there and the Bulldogs are on their way to the postseason again as either the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the district.

The 2020 Bulldogs are 18-5 and 7-1 in the District 18-3A race after losing at the buzzer last week in a controversial game against Malakoff. Burk’s kids have won nine of their last 10.

Rice’s fans, who have embraced the basketball team, are used to winning. Burks’ teams have made success commonplace. He is 100-41 at Rice and has a team that has a good chance of making a run in the playoffs.

The turnaround has been dramatic. Consider this: Rice had never won the Kiwanis Classic Tournament.

Since Burks arrived,, the Bulldogs have won three of the last four Kiwanis titles, and finished second the year they didn’t win it.

Burks was greeted with handshakes and hugs after Tuesday’s game when he talked to the fans about reaching 100 wins. He handed out credit with ease and a smile on his face.

“That first team I had won 27 games, and it has just been building over the years,” he said. “I’ve had three kids who were Kiwanis MVPS, and we have been able to out some good players around them.”

Those three were Sim Nezar, Tre’ Jessie and Elizhah Nezar, who were all named Kiwanis MVPs after leading Rice to the title. Sim Nezar and Jessie were also named the Golden Circle Player of the Year, and Elizhah Nezar will win that award later this year.

“He’s a great coach,” Elizhah Nezar said Tuesday after scoring 29 points and pulling down 13 rebounds to lead Rice to the win over Blooming Grove. “He deserves this (100 win celebration). He makes us work hard but he makes it fun.

“We have fun, but he wants to win, and he keeps us focused when the game is close. I’m glad to have him as my coach.”

Burks was moved after the game.

"I love all my kids," he said. "This year at the Kiwanis championship game there were 15 of my former players at the game to see us play. That meant a lot to me. The 100 wins is all about the kids. I just try to be a good example for them and break down the game for them.

"We have great chemistry, and we're a family," he said. "We are always in every game. It's been a great five years. I love my guys!"

Burks said it has all gone by too fast, but he appreciates every moment he has had at Rice, and winning his 100th with this team made it even more special.

“We’ve been shooting the lights out,” he said of his Bulldogs, who made 15 3-pointers against Malakoff last week and made seven 3’s in the first quarter against Blooming Grove Tuesday. “These guys are able to come back in a game against anybody. They love to play up-tempo and that’s what I love.

“There was some noise this year before the season started,” he said. “People were saying Rice will be a little down this year. You could hear that noise. But I really like this team top to bottom. This is my most competitive team top to bottom in my five years here.”

The Bulldogs never trailed Tuesday. They made seven 3-pointers to start the game, and the first five produced a 15-0 lead.

Nezar finished with another remarkable all-around performance with his 29-point, 13-rebound double-double. He also handed out six assists and had five steals, and finished the night with four 3-pointers.

Jakobe Jessie followed with 11 points, and Hayden Brown, who made two 3-pointers in the opening moments of the game, finished with eight.

Dakota Jessie and Josiah Morris scored four points each. Tanner carlisle finished with three points and Jerry Montgomery and Carson Selman scored two points each.

Blooming Grove was led by Andrew Roberts, who scored 11 points, and Etan Nors, who followed with 10. Jalen Coleman scored eight and Cameron Smith scored seven points, all in the first half. Timmy Hamilton and Seth McGraw scored five points each and Colton Nicholson (1) also scored for Blooming Grove.

Blooming Grove, which fell behind 25-11 in the first quarter barrage of 3s, battled back and trailed only 43-32 after three quarters.

The Lions, who have a chance to make the playoffs, trailed 40-22 but ended the third with a  10-2 run to make it a game again.

The Lions kept coming and when Roberts hit a drive and then came back with a pair of free throws, the Lions cut the lead to just six points —44-38 with 6:11 left.

But Nezar, who scored 10 points in the fourth, hit a 3 to make it 47-38 and that ignited a 19-7 run to end the game.

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