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Sunday, April 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

Rob Lanier named men’s basketball head coach

Courtesy Rice Athletics

By Andersen Pickard     3/26/24 11:38pm

Less than two weeks after parting ways with head coach Scott Pera, Rice Athletics announced they have hired Rob Lanier as the program’s 26th head coach.

Lanier was previously the head basketball coach at Southern Methodist University, a position he was dismissed from six days ago, on March 21. He was officially introduced at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Lanier will now oversee the growth of a Rice basketball program that finished last during its inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference. Under Pera, the Owls were 11-21 (5-13 in AAC). The program also saw five players, including All-AAC freshman forward Keanu Dawes, enter the transfer portal following Pera’s dismissal. Other players interested in playing elsewhere next season include sophomore guard Mekhi Mason, sophomore center Andrew Akuchie, junior guard Cameron Sheffield and freshman guard Camp Wagner, who have all announced their plans to enter the transfer portal.

“President DesRoches and the Board of Trustees have shown a great desire for this program to take its place among the best in the AAC and agreed with my assessment that a coaching change was the appropriate step towards reaching that goal,” athletic director Tommy McClelland said in a press release announcing Pera’s dismissal on March 14.

At the press conference, McClelland said he and his search committee had a “methodical, very detailed process” to find Pera’s replacement. “We met with a number of accomplished coaches with experience expanding impressive major college programs and even the NBA,” he said.

Upon “becoming available,” Lanier drew interest from several teams, including one Power 5 school, according to McClelland. Upon his wife’s suggestion, Lanier directed his agent to contact Rice about their vacancy. Lanier and McClelland spoke for roughly 45 minutes over the phone Saturday, then met for more than six hours at Lanier’s house Sunday. 

“One thing became very clear to me during these conversations: Rob Lanier was the right fit, the right person, the right coach and the right visionary leader we had been looking for from the very beginning,” McClelland said, citing leadership, intensity, experience and Texan ties as attributes he sought in the program’s next head coach.

Lanier has more than 30 years of experience coaching basketball in the NCAA, including stints as head coach at Siena College, Georgia State University and the aforementioned SMU. He owns an all-time record of 141-135 (0.511) with two trips to the NCAA Tournament, but his teams never advanced beyond the Round of 64. He also has experience as an assistant coach at Power 5 schools such as the University of Texas, the University of Virginia, the University of Florida and the University of Tennessee.

In his second and final season at SMU, Lanier led the Mustangs to a 20-13 record, and their 11-7 conference record ranked sixth among 14 teams in the AAC. That final record included a 95-69 victory over Rice at Tudor Fieldhouse on Feb. 7.

Chris Kreider, who worked for Pera at Rice from 2017 to 2019, has spent the last five years coaching under Lanier at Georgia State and SMU. He confirmed to the Thresher that he will be making his return to Rice as one of several SMU assistants following Lanier to South Main. Lanier’s exact coaching staff has not yet been finalized.  

Rice’s preparations for a bounce-back season next year will begin immediately. His tasks include fortifying a roster that lost several players following Pera’s departure. Lanier and Kreider both emphasized the importance of allowing the outgoing transfers to explore their options. 

“[We’ll] give those guys space to go through their process while, at the same time, knowing there’s some urgency to it,” Kreider said. “As soon as we’re official here, we’ll meet with them as a staff and make sure they see the vision clearly.”

“It’s a high standard. We’re asking a lot of you,” Lanier said of his new players at Rice. “If you’ve bought in, you’re one of us. If you’re not about that, we’re going to help you move on because you don’t fit.”

Rice intends to offset potential subtractions by recruiting players with high athletic and academic aspirations. “You want [potential recruits] to aspire to something beyond athletics,” Lanier said. When you commit to Rice, you’ve already done that, you’ve already thought beyond athletics. There’s enough highly competitive people who want to be successful after they’re done playing, but want to be great while they are. We’re going to find them.”

“We’re going to recruit nationally because Rice and the academic level allows us to do that,” Kreider added. “Lock down Houston and lock down Texas, but then also nationally and even internationally if that presents itself.”

The Owls have already secured one commitment as Lanier announced that his son, Emory, is transferring from SMU to Rice. The guard, who averaged 3.8 points in 33 games last season, had entered the transfer portal Tuesday morning with a “do not contact” tag, which forbade other schools from recruiting him. Pera himself had attempted to recruit Emory in high school, but he ultimately decided to attend Davidson College before transferring to SMU.

Lanier has already addressed the team privately but has plans to meet with them further, he said. 

“These players are going to work harder than they’ve ever worked before. We’re going to put in more time than we’ve ever put in before. It’s going to be difficult, and you’re going to get better, and we’re going to compete for a championship,” Lanier said.

Mere months after his SMU team handed the Owls a 26-point defeat in their own gymnasium, Lanier is ready to bring basketball glory to fans of Rice athletics.

“We’re going to fill the building. People are going to be excited by how hard we play, by how committed we are, and we’re going to be one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Lanier said. “That’s a fact. It’s non-negotiable.”

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