Boise State brand not only about blue turf

A prep basketball player is walking the halls of his school somewhere today, his college choice already made, whose classmates are well aware of the national brand that defines his destination.

They know all about the football team.

“Without question, it was one of the main things that attracted me to the job,” Boise State basketball coach Leon Rice said. “It has been proven that in places where there is such a commitment to football, other programs can benefit from that.

“Look at our roster – we have been able to recruit nationally. A lot of that has to do with football.”

Rice is in his third season leading the Broncos, who host UNLV tonight at Taco Bell Arena, where the Rebels needed overtime last season to survive with a 77-72 victory.

It was one of several scores over his first two seasons that indicated Boise State basketball under Rice wouldn’t be just another hobby for fans to enjoy while awaiting another blue and orange spring practice for Chris Petersen’s football power, that the Broncos were pointed in the right direction for hoops success and capable of making their own headlines.

Boise State is 49-36 under Rice and already this season took Michigan State to the wire in East Lansing and won at Creighton by 13. The Broncos are 8-1 at home, the loss in overtime to New Mexico.

The roster Rice speaks of includes players from such far-away dots on a global map as Australia and Latvia and Serbia, where kids might not know much about Boise State basketball, but might at some point over the last several years seen a glimpse of blue football turf and the team that dominates on it.

The Broncos have only two players from Idaho. One (Jake Ness) averages just 5.7 minutes and the other (Joey Nebeker) is redshirting this season.

Why things have been more impressive than not: Talented freshmen from last year have grown into sophomores playing major roles and minutes, led by guard Derrick Marks out of Chicago and wing Anthony Drmic from Australia.

The Broncos also have borrowed a page from the football playbook and lead the conference in scoring with a 75.8 average. Teams just don’t beat Creighton by 13 on the road like Boise State did and not be a capable side.

It all makes for a pretty bright future for Rice, one that points directly to the heavy dose of leverage Boise State held in recent negotiations to remain in the Mountain West, when the conference restructured its TV deal that will allow specific bonus clauses to benefit a Broncos football team sure to be shown on national TV multiple times each season.

It should ultimately mean millions of dollars in additional revenue, some of which will be fed directly to men’s basketball, to things such as coaching salaries and recruiting budgets and facilities.

All the things that allow a program to flirt with and perhaps find a regular spot in the Top 25 rankings.

“We have an athletic director (Mark Coyle) who came from the University of Kentucky, so he understands quite a bit about basketball and what it takes to be good in it,” Rice said. “He knows how good our league is and how well funded the top programs are in it.

“Our goal is to reach that level. We know that it can’t be done overnight, but when you look at what they have built in basketball at places like San Diego State and Colorado State, they’re great examples of what can be done with the right amount of support from administrations and staff and fans.”

It was obvious why UNLV coaches wanted San Diego State to remain part of the Mountain West, a program that has developed into the Rebels’ main rival with a coaching staff that includes close friends of Dave Rice and his assistants.

But in Boise State, the league has an athletics program that is now recognized in those high school hallways across the country and beyond.

You can’t overstate the significance of a national brand.

“First and foremost, Leon is doing a great job building his basketball program, and that gives all of us credibility,” Dave Rice said. “But, no question, the reputation that Boise State football has developed over the years is a huge deal for the long-term success of our conference.”

And, apparently, the basketball team feeding off such recognition.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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