In the most recent installement in Jon Teitel's interview series he caught up with Ricky Pierce, who followed up one of the greatest careers in Rice history with a long professional career.
Jon Teitel: You started at Walla Walla CC before ending up at Rice. Why did you choose Walla Walla, and why did you end up at Rice?
Ricky Pierce: I was going to attend Washington State, as head coach George Raveling wanted to keep me close so he could keep an eye on me. I ended up choosing Rice because I wanted to stay closer to home so that family could come see me.
JT: You were named All-SWC in each of your three years at Rice. How were you able to come in and contribute in your first year, and how were you able to dominate throughout your college career?
RP: It is just a matter of determination, and wanting to be competitive, so I would go home every summer and put a lot into my training.
JT: In 1982 you were named All-American and conference Player of the Year. What did it mean to you to win such outstanding individual honors?
RP: It meant a lot to me, as I wanted to be one of the best in the world.
JT: You graduated as the leading scorer in school history, and your career average of 22.5 PPG is still tops in school history. Did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were?
RP: A lot of people told me that I could really shoot the ball, and I just practiced a lot: it was a gift.
JT: In the summer of 1982 you were drafted with the 18th overall pick by Detroit (2 spots ahead of Paul Pressey). Did you see that as a validation of your college career, or the realization of a lifelong dream of reaching the NBA, or other?
RP: It was a dream of mine to play in the pros, and getting drafted was the only way to get satisfaction.
JT: In 1983 you were traded to the San Diego Clippers, who moved to LA after that season. How did it feel to be traded, and what was it like to be on a franchise that was changing cities at the time?
RP: It hurt my feelings; I felt rejected, I could not hold food down, it was a real depressing moment. I later realized that it just meant that there were other teams that wanted me. It was hard to understand as a young player, but I thought it was a great opportunity for me to go to a big city like LA.
JT: In 1984 you were traded to Milwaukee before ever playing a game in LA. Were you frustrated to be on your 3rd team in 3 years, and how hard is it to separate the personal side from the business side of professional sports?
RP: That is when I started to realize that it was a business, but it was nice to know that teams wanted me. It was great to go to Milwaukee and play with Paul Pressey and play for Coach Don Nelson.
JT: What are your memories of the 1986 Eastern Conference Finals (the Celtics swept the Bucks en route to winning the NBA title)?
RP: Boston just had an outstanding team, and we ran into a buzz-saw in Larry Bird. We were not happy to get swept, but we just did everything we could do.
JT: In 1987 and 1990 you were named NBA Sixth Man of the Year with Milwaukee. Do you have a different mindset coming off the bench as a 6th man, and did you feel like you deserved to be a starter?
RP: To see so many great guys who did not make it at all, and having been traded so much, I was just happy to play and get consistent minutes. Starters' minutes are marked in as a certain number of minutes, as are the minutes for guys coming off the bench. In my mind I was going to finish games regardless of whether or not I started them, so that was my approach.
JT: In 1991 with Seattle you set the then second-longest consecutive free throw streak in NBA history by making 75 in a row. How were you able to maintain your focus for such a long stretch, and what is your secret for FT shooting?
RP: You just have to ollow through, keep your balance, and stay focused. I was a good shooter, but you need determination to make FT: they are gimmes.
JT: In 1991 you scored nine points in your only All-Star game. What did it feel like to finally be recognized as an All-Star?
RP: It felt good to make the All-Star team; it was a great accomplishment for me, but it was never a goal of mine to make the All-Star game. It showed that all my hard work had paid off, as most of time the players selected were starters.
JT: What are your memories of the 1993 Western Conference Finals (the Suns beat the Sonics in Game 7, led by Charles Barkley who had 44 points and 24 rebounds)?
RP: Barkley was a monster player who just had a monster game. Home-court advantage is key in the playoffs, so it was a real tough series for us. We had young players like Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp who were still learning, and they learned a lot in that series.
JT: You averaged 14.9 PPG during your 15-year NBA career. How satisfied are you with your career, and how do you want people to remember you the most?
RP: I am satisfied with my career: the only thing I did not do was win a championship. It felt good to get to the top level. I want to be remembered as a hard-worker who competed all the time and never cheated the game: I showed up to practice every day and just worked hard.
JT: You are currently thirteenth in NBA history with a career mark of 87.5 FT%. Do you consider yourself to be one of the best FT shooters ever?
RP: Yes, from a statistical standpoint. The key is whether you can make them at the end of the game, which I could.
JT: You ended up playing for eight different teams in your career. Do you feel allegiance to any one specific team, and if so, why?
RP: My greatest memories were with Milwaukee (where I played with guys like Pressey/Jack Sikma/Alvin Robertson/Sidney Moncrief) and Seattle. I also give a lot of credit to the two former Boston guys I played under (KC Jones and Don Nelson), as well as Del Harris.
JT: Despite moving around so much, you made the playoffs in 12 of your 15 seasons: were you just fortunate to be on a bunch of great teams, and was it frustrating to keep making the playoffs without ever reaching the NBA Finals?
RP: It was frustrating, because every player wants to win a championship, they are hard to come by, you need right team and right time, and if you weren't on Boston/LA/Chicago it was tough.
JT: After retiring from the NBA in 1998 you played overseas in Greece. What did you learn from this experience, and how did it compare to the NBA?
RP: The NBA had better players for sure, but overseas they work so hard from a young age, including two-a-day practices. The NBA was a lot more "pleasurable", so the young guys who are now in the NBA do not understand the work ethic. In Europe they run it more like college; you have a pre-game meal together, and there is no joking around.
JT: After returning to America and watching your son at the YMCA, you developed the AccuShot 22 (a basketball with specially-designed fingertip-placement markers). How did you come up with the idea, and how well does it work?
RP: I started training players and noticed them shooting the ball out of the palm of their hand. If you shoot it off of your fingertips, as all the great players do, it gives you more feel/control/backspin. You can position the ball several different ways, but backspin on your release is the key. I am going to do a Walmart clinic in Arkansas, and you can find out more information about the ball at: www.accushot22rickypierce.com.
JT: The product sells for almost $40 but you give away hundreds to underprivileged children for free. What value do you place on charity, and how do the kids react when you give them a free ball?
RP: The kids love it: I was one of those kids growing up who could not afford camps/lessons. I give a lot of the basketball to churches on Christmas. I really feel passion for kids, and I love giving to charity.
JT: You also wrote a children's book called "Bouncing Billy" about the importance of diversity and physical fitness. Why did you write the book, and do you think it has helped fight the problem of obesity in America?
RP: As I was training kids to play basketball, I had a lot of parents tell me that their kids needed to get more engaged in physical activities. My book (www.bouncingbilly.com) teaches that even if you are different, you are still special: it is a great tool for understanding life skills. I am working on my 2nd book to teach some other life lessons. I also have a life skills programs called Accuskills for kids from ages 10-18 about being prepared for the opportunities that await you.
Conference USA Pro Greats by School
East Carolina: Blue Edwards (1990)
Houston: Hakeem Olajuwon (1985)
Marshall: Hal Greer (1959)
Memphis: Larry Kenon (1974)
Rice: Ricky Pierce (1983)
SMU: Jim Krebs (1958)
Southern Miss: Clarence Weatherspoon (1993)
Tulane: Hot Rod Williams (1987)
Tulsa: Paul Pressey (1983)
UAB: Donell Taylor (2006)
UCF: Jermaine Taylor (2010)
UTEP: Tim Hardaway (1990)