Air Force men's basketball coach Dave Pilipovich is the type who has a story about seemingly everything, so it was no surprise he’d have one to share about his most frequent opponent.
At Mountain West media day in Las Vegas in October, Pilipovich slipped into the casino late at night and ran across his Boise State counterpart, Leon Rice.
Together, they made their way to a blackjack table.
On one hand, Pilipovich was dealt a queen. Rice had a king.
When the dealer flipped them their next cards, she inadvertently skipped Rice and gave Pilipovich an ace. Rice's ace. Blackjack!
That’s when Pilipovich saw the Rice he knows from the basketball court.
“Leon flips out, it’s like a block/charge call,” Pilipovich said in his animated style. “He snaps. He’s yelling at the dealer. I looked up and say, ‘Good hand.’”
The issue was resolved, with the pit boss determining the whole table would be paid out because of the error. Pilipovich made one more quip — “I said, ‘Let’s do that again next hand’” — and left with another entry into his catalogue of stories.
“He’s a great guy,” Pilipovich said of Rice, who he’ll face for the 16th time Wednesday as the Broncos (11-7, 3-3 Mountain West) visit Clune Arena in a 7 p.m. game televised by AT&T SportsNet. “I’m probably closer to him than the other guys in the league just because we’ve been there longer.”
Pilipovich’s first game as a head coach after replacing Jeff Reynolds midseason in February 2012 came against Rice, whose team won 72-61 to give Boise State its first victory as a member of the Mountain West.
Rice’s head start from that year makes him the longest-tenured coach in the league, with Pilipovich just behind.
Boise State holds a 11-4 advantage in the meetings between the two coaches, going 4-4 at Air Force.
“Ol’ Dave, he’s a sly one,” Rice said in October when evaluating Air Force’s senior-laden team stacked with shooters. “He thinks nobody’s noticing. I’ve noticed.”
Air Force (8-9, 2-3) enters the coaches’ 16th matchup playing its best basketball of the season. The Falcons split last week, knocking off preseason conference favorite Utah State 79-60 on Tuesday and then falling 84-78 at New Mexico.
Lavelle Scottie (18.8 ppg), Ryan Swan (17.4) and A.J. Walker (15.2) have led the Falcons in scoring during conference play, Scottie leading in rebounds (7.2 rpg), Swan in steals (nine) and Walker in assists (14) and 3-point shooting (53.8%).
Boise State is led by junior Derrick Alston Jr., a 6-foot-9 preseason all-Mountain West pick who creates matchup issues because of his ability to handle the ball and play on a wing. He’s averaging 19.7 points. Guard Justinian Jessup, a Longmont native, is just 15 3-pointers shy of catching BYU legend Jimmer Fredette’s Mountain West record of 296. Oregon transfer Abu Kigab, a 6-foot-6 guard, became eligible in December and is averaging 13.3 points.
Pilipovich doesn’t think either side gains an advantage because of the long track record, particularly because their coaching staffs and players have continuously changed.
“Only advantage is when I go to Vegas I might take him with me,” Pilipovich said. “He’s good luck.”