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Owls Begin Fall-Ball; Announce New Baseball Schedule
In addition to holding the team's first fall practice of 2013 on Monday afternoon (Sept. 30) at Reckling Park, Rice head baseball coach Wayne Graham announced the Owls have finalized the program's new 2013-2014 schedule.
Now entering his 23rd season at the helm of the Rice program, coach Graham welcomed back 21 returning lettermen from last year's team that earned a 19th-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Owls return six offensive starters in the batting order and ten veteran pitchers who helped lead the 2013 team to a 44-20 record and to both the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles. Seven of ten newcomers on the team are freshmen from the high school ranks and three are joining Rice as transfers.
Head Coach: Rice University
There are some fairly common factors that measure coaching success in college baseball. The familiar criteria include a coach's wins and win-percentage, NCAA Regional bids, trips to the College World Series, winning a national championship, conference championships, All-America honorees and molding young players into major league draft picks.
It's common criteria. Rice Owls head coach Wayne Graham has had uncommon success.
After 21 full seasons at the helm of the Rice baseball program, and his 32 as a collegiate head coach, Graham has been one of the top coaches in the country who has built a sky-scraper of a program at Rice.
It was no surprise that in 2012 coach Graham was tabbed for induction into the College Baseball Hall of Fame. It was even less surprising, and in fact applauded, that (at the age of 76) he was rewarded by Rice with a five-year extension on his current contract. Clearly, the University administration realizes its Hall of Fame head coach is both a national and baseball treasure.
At Rice Graham has amassed 953 wins and maintained a .716 win percentage. Another way of looking at the .715 win percentage is that it's the equivalent of a major league team winning 116 games in a single season -- except Graham has maintained that impressive pace over 21 full seasons at Rice.
Speaking of win-percentage, Graham has led the Owls to the second-best composite win percentage in the nation over the last 14 full seasons. Using the year the NCAA tournament expanded to its current 64-team/Super Regional format (1999), and with Graham firmly at the Rice's helm, the Owls' .738 win percentage from 1999 to 2012 has ranked second among all Division I programs.
Are all-America selections the criteria for an outstanding coach? Graham has coached 32 different Rice players to a total of 47 all-America awards. Perhaps it's molding a player into a professional prospect. More than 20 former Owls were playing pro baseball in 2012, including six in the major leagues. Of course that Rice total of Graham-coached players to reach the majors isn't even counting the ones he tutored while at San Jacinto College (of which one, Andy Pettite, was still active in 2012).
There were six of his Owls who were selected in the 2012 major league draft and a total of 34 Rice draftees over the last five years. It's a steady draft rate to be sure, but consider in 2007 Graham had 14 Owls drafted by the majors in that year alone. The 14 Rice draft picks tied the college record for the most players selected from one school in a single year. It's not just simply getting drafted, however. He developed 14 Owls into first-round major league draft picks, including as recently as 2011 when Anthony Rendon as the sixth player taken overall.
Are team accomplishments the criteria? Consider Rice has won 17 conference championships in a row, including C-USA regular season and tournament crowns, all nine Western Athletic Conference titles during the Owls' tenure in that league (1997-2005) and the final Southwest Conference Championship in 1996. The 2012 season marked Rice's 18th-straight appearance in an NCAA Regional.
The Owls have been to NCAA Super Regionals nine times since the format was adopted in 1999. The Blue & Gray has been to the College World Series seven times since 1997. In 2003, Graham led Rice to the school's first team national championship in any sport.
Pick the criteria for coaching success, and Graham has far-exceeded the standard.
His work in 2012 may have been some of his best coaching yet. Not only was Rice was a consensus Top 10 team all year long, the squad battled to win the C-USA regular season championship on the last day of the league schedule on the road. The Owls played 22 games against nine different teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Blue & Gray was 15-7 against the elite teams. Rice played the eventual national champion Arizona Wildcats in the regular season and split that series 1-1. For his effort Graham was named the C-USA Keith LeClair coach of the year (for a fifth time).
The head coach's 2011 squad delivered despite being beset by injuries. He had to play two true freshmen on the leftside of the infield all year and turn to a freshman starting pitcher on opening day and in the Friday night games. Graham simply steered the team to its 17th-straight season of 40-plus wins. Rice won a share of the C-USA regular-season title before winning the league's tournament title and earning a Top 8 national seed in the NCAA Championships.
In 2010 he guided the Owls to the C-USA regular season title, an NCAA Regional bid and 40 wins in a demanding schedule that featured 26 games against elite teams that went on to national postseason play. Along the way he coached and developed his sophomore third-baseman, Anthony Rendon, into the National Player of the Year and recipient of the Howser Trophy. At the end of the year he was named the C-USA Coach of the Year.
Graham's 2009 Rice squad finished among the nation's Top 10. The Owls stormed to the C-USA Tournament Championship then hosted and won the NCAA Regional at Reckling Park. He coached Rendon to the National Freshman of the Year honors.
The 2008 Rice squad rocketed to the upper echelon of the national Rating Percentage Index (RPI), finishing fourth overall. The high RPI made Rice an easy choice for a national seed in the NCAA Tournament and to host postseason games. Graham's Owls justified that consideration with the program's third trip to Omaha in as many years. The Blue & Gray dominated the C-USA regular season with a 21-3 league record. He was named the South Central Region Coach of the Year by his colleagues in the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) and the C-USA Keith LeClair Coach of the Year.
The 2007 Rice squad was second in the nation in wins (56) and third in the nation in win-percentage (.800). The Blue & Gray reached the semi-finals of the CWS and tied for third in the nation for a second year in a row. The team also had the No. 1 rating percentage index (RPI) in the country. At the end of the year Graham was named the National Division I Coach of the Year by Fieldturf, the ABCA region coach of the year and LeClair Coach of the Year.
His 2006 team had the best win-percentage in the country. The Owls reached the semifinals of the CWS and tied for third in the nation. For an incredible 2006 season, the College Baseball Foundation named Graham one of its national coaches of the year. His fellow head coaches in C-USA named him the Keith LeClair Coach of the Year his first year in the league.
It may be hard to imagine with all the success Graham has had at Rice for these many years, but at first there were small steps for a program which had never won even a conference championship or advanced to NCAA tournament play.
Year one in 1992 showed a 13-game improvement in the win column. Year two (1993) was another seven games better. In year three (1994), the Owls had their best finish ever in Southwest Conference play at 12-6 and their first appearance under Graham in the SWC postseason tournament. Year four (1995) boasted of 43 wins and Rice's first bid to the NCAA tournament. Year five (1996): a SWC tournament title and NCAA bid.
The Owls won the 1996 SWC championship in storybook fashion. Entering the last conference tournament in Lubbock as the number-six seed, Graham's Owls swept through the field in four straight games, topped by a 16-8 romp past Texas in the final. It was Rice baseball's most satisfying week in its long history as a member of the SWC.
Then there was Graham's sixth Rice season in 1997, the Owls' first foray into the Western Athletic Conference. Led by a duo that Baseball America called "one of the greatest power packages in college baseball history" (pitcher Matt Anderson and first-baseman Lance Berkman), Rice soared to a 47-16 record and its first WAC team championship. A 13-game winning streak over the last month of the regular season ensured titles in the WAC-South and at the league tournament, resulting in an automatic NCAA bid.
Rice returned to Lubbock for the 1997 Central Regional where the South Plains magic continued from the year before. The Owls romped through the regional, earning the school's first entry into the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. It was a season that netted Graham kudos as the western region's coach of the year as voted by the ABCA.
In 1998, Rice posted a 46-17 overall record and was even more successful in the WAC. The Owls ran through their division with a 26-4 record and capped the year with another four-game sweep in the postseason tournament. Graham's charges were the top seed in the Central Regional in College Station, but a pair of slugfest losses ended the year prematurely. Damon Thames was the ABCA national player of the year, and Bubba Crosby was the Owls' fourth first-round draft choice in four seasons. Graham won recognition as the WAC coach of the year by his peers.
The 1999 season ran true to form. Led by one of the best pitching staffs in college baseball, the Owls never left the top 10 in any of the national polls, enjoying the school's first number-one ranking in any sport on two different occasions and finishing at number five. Graham was named Baseball America's national coach of the year, as well as repeating his WAC honor. The conference tournament was another four-game sweep, but the return trip to Lubbock for the regional was a bit less routine.
After an opening round upset at the hands of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Owls swept through Rutgers, UWM and host Texas Tech twice for its second regional title. In the new Super Regional, Rice also dropped the opener to Louisiana-Lafayette before stopping the Cajuns twice to win the trip to Omaha. That was up to six straight wins when elimination was only one loss away. The head coach had convinced the squad to keep fighting. At Omaha, the Owls fell to eventual national champion Miami in their opener. Rice's first-ever CWS win, over Oklahoma State, followed two days later.
The 2000 season is one of Graham's most outstanding coaching achievements. Adjusting to six new position players and the loss of all-America pitcher Jeff Nichols due to an injury, the Owls staggered through the first half of the schedule. After April 1, though, the head coach righted the ship to lead the Owls from a sub-.500 record to their fourth straight WAC title on the final weekend of the season.
More success followed in 2001. Led by an all-America pitching staff featuring Kenny Baugh and Jon Skaggs, the Owls spent six weeks as the nation's number-one team. The amazing comeback win over Baylor on Memorial Day clinched the Owls' second trip to a Super Regional.
In 2002, the Owls adjusted again after Baugh and Skaggs were first-round selections in the professional draft. Graham combined two new players in the weekend pitching rotation -- transfer Justin Crowder and freshman Philip Humber -- and five new position players with four returnees, keeping the Owls near the top of the national rankings most of the year. Graham was named the WAC and ABCA western regional coach of the year as the Owls again advanced to Omaha.
In 2003, his 12th season, Graham's mind and energy were focused squarely on the goal of Rice's first national championship. The team combined the best pitching staff in the nation with the best defense to win 58 of its 70 games. The Owls spent more than two months ranked as the top team in the nation, and the team ran off an eye-opening 30-game winning streak. Sophomore pitchers Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend, Philip Humber and Josh Baker combined for a 47-5 record, and closer David Aardsma had a Rice-record 12 saves. Every Owl starter won at least one postseason honor and Graham was named the national and WAC coach of the year.
In 2004, the Owls went 46-14 and won another WAC title to qualify for another postseason appearance. Graham came up with yet another Rice first. The pitching trio of Humber, Niemann and Townsend were all selected among the first eight picks of the major league draft (numbers three, four and eight overall). It was the first time in MLB history that three pitchers, or even three players, from the same school had been selected that high in the draft's first round.
Freshmen were the bulk of the 2005 team, but that did not stop the Owls (45-19) from winning the WAC championship. That young Rice team came within four outs of reaching the College World Series after nearly upsetting number one ranked Tulane on the road in the Super Regional.
A native Houstonian who had followed the Owls since his earliest days, he played high school baseball at Reagan High in the Heights. He had his first championship experience when he played his first year at Reagan, as a pitcher and outfielder in 1951-52, under coach Leroy Ashmore.
In 1952 Reagan was the Houston city and Texas State baseball champions on the strength of a 38-3 record. With Graham on the mound in 1953, Reagan won the city's high school championship. One of his battery mates throughout his prep career was Rice alum ('58) Jerry Sims. The championship spirit was instilled at an early age and is still there.
Graham matriculated to Texas, where he played two seasons under the legendary Bibb Falk. After his playing days as a Longhorn ended, Graham embarked on an 11-year professional career as a third baseman and outfielder with the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets organizations.
Despite several strong seasons in the minors -- he hit .300 or better in six of 10 minor league stops, including a .311 average with 17 home runs and 70 runs batted in at Dallas-Fort Worth in 1962 to earn Texas minor league player of the year honors -- Graham had just two brief stints in the major leagues. The first came in 1963 when he appeared in 10 games for Gene Mauch's Philadelphia Phillies. A year later, Graham played 20 games for Casey Stengel and the New York Mets.
Following his playing days, Graham returned to UT to receive his B.S. in physical education in 1970, and he added a master's of education from the University of Houston in 1973.
Graham's coaching career began at Scarborough High School in Houston. In nine seasons at Scarborough and one at Spring Branch, Graham's teams compiled a 98-13 (.883) district record, won seven district titles and never finished lower than second place in the district race.
After nine successful seasons on the high school level, Graham moved on to San Jacinto, where he proceeded to turn the Gators into the nation's most celebrated JC team. His first squad in 1981 (featuring freshman Roger Clemens) went 43-7 and finished second in the Texas JC ranks. The following two seasons brought 89 more victories (only 22 losses) and a pair of conference titles.
Graham was just getting started. In 1984, he led the Gators to the first of seven consecutive 50-win seasons and the national JC tournament. A loss in the championship game only served to fuel the fires that would lead to three straight national titles in 1985-87. Another runner-up showing in 1988 was followed by two more titles in 1989 and 1990, giving the Gators five championships in a six-year span while preparing dozens of players for major college and/or professional careers.
Graham's honors at San Jac were nearly endless. He was named Collegiate Baseball Magazine's Junior College Coach of the Century, as well as the newspaper's Coach of the Decade for 1980's. He was named the national JC coach of the year five times and the top Texas JC coach six times. His uniform number (37) was retired by San Jacinto and he was inducted into the junior college hall of fame in May, 1995.
All of Graham's coaching accomplishments naturally led to his induction into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame at Fort Worth in 2003. In 2004 he was named one of Houston's 38 Sports Legends to coincide with the city hosting Super Bowl XXXVIII. He was inducted to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
What is left for a man who has 39-straight winning seasons at the high school and collegiate level and has won nearly 80 percent of his games on the collegiate level (1,527-493 in 31 seasons at Rice and San Jacinto)? A second national championship, to be precise. With Reckling Park as the Owls' home and the venue for ten NCAA Regionals in 2001-02-03-04-06-07-08-09-11-12, plus Super Regionals in 2002-03-06-07-08, Graham has all the pieces in place to sustain Rice at the highest level.
Graham and his wife Tanya live in Houston. She earned her Rice degree in human performance and exercise science in May, 1999.
Assistant Coach: Rice University
Former Rice baseball letterman Patrick Hallmark (Brown College) is in his eighth year of coaching at his alma mater.
Hallmark has already assisted the program in a variety of roles under head coach Wayne Graham but he is taking on a new responsibility in 2013. A longtime catcher who worked with a host of different types of professional pitchers at the minor league level, Hallmark will serve as the Owls' pitching coach this season.
Hallmark had previously coached the Owl hitters, but he also trained the catchers and worked on the defensive skills and positioning of the outfielders. He coached at third base on game days last season.
When the task of recruiting was added to his list of responsibilities Hallmark hit the ground running. The former Owl has identified the top prospects from around the region and across the nation who could not only play at the elite level that Rice baseball has reached, but also thrive in the University's challenging academic curriculum. In addition to a host of prep accolades for the signees, two of Hallmark's current class were drafted by the major leagues but chose to enroll at Rice.
By carrying out coach Graham's directives, Hallmark helped the Owls rank among the Conference USA leaders in hits, doubles and runs scored in 2012. Last season Rice outscored its opponents by more than 140 total runs and averaged a steady 5.6 runs per game. With 106 doubles Hallmark's hitters showed they could hit for extra bases, but the players also had the skill from his daily training to lead the league in sacrifices and disciplined-enough to draw 279 walks in 60 games.
Offense is only part of the story. On defense, Hallmark's outfielders are well-coached, consistently put in the right spot, and reach a defensive-potential they might never even knew they had. Last season Rice outfielders threw-out an eye-opening 14 opposing runners who were attempting to reach an extra base.
When the Major League Draft was held in the summer of 2012, a Rice catcher (Craig Manuel) and outfielder (Jeremy Rathjen) that Hallmark had trained were selected by their respective organizations in either an earlier round or for the first time in their career.
A former catcher for coach Graham, Hallmark started 56 games in 1995 to help lead Rice to its first 40-win season in 11 years. In that second-to-last season of the Southwest Conference, he batted .354 against the league with a .430 slugging percentage, 57 runs, and 14 stolen bases in 16 attempts.
Hallmark was selected by Kansas City in the 18th round of the 1995 major league draft and played professionally for nine seasons. He reached the AAA level in the Royals' organization. Hallmark was part of three consecutive championship teams in the minor leagues from 1997-99.
Playing primarily as a catcher and outfielder, Hallmark hit over .300 three times and stole 30-plus bases five times in his pro playing career. He twice stole more than 40 bases (2000 and 2002) and was selected to play in two minor league all-star games.
Hallmark continued to pursue his Rice degree in the off-seasons and earned it in human performance in 2002. He played his final pro season in 2003 and began his coaching career. He worked one season at nearby Saint Thomas High School before returning home to Rice.
A Houston native, Hallmark was a two-time all-district honoree in baseball in 1991 and 1992 at Westbury High School. He went on to earn all-conference honors at Alvin Community College in 1993 and 1994. He was named to the all-Southwest Conference team in 1995.
Hallmark is married to the former Jada Sanders of Kingwood, a 2001 Rice graduate (Sid Richardson) and four-year letterwinner who set school records for the Owls' swim team. Jada served five seasons as an assistant swim coach at Rice. Both Hallmarks coached their respective Owl teams to C-USA Championships in the spring of 2011. The couple have three children, Christian (7), Tanner (5) and Grayson (3).
Clay Van Hook
Assistant Coach: Rice University
Clay Van Hook is in his second year with the Owls' staff, only with a new title and responsibilities.
Van Hook served as Rice's volunteer assistant coach during his first year with the program in 2012. He was promoted by Wayne Graham to a full-time position prior to the start of the 2013 season and now adds recruiting and coaching at third base on game days to his growing list of duties.
One thing that has not changed is that Van Hook will continue to work with the Owl hitters and on individual fielding skills. In his first season Rice finished among the C-USA leaders in doubles (106 in 60 games) and RBI (303). His daily work helping the hitters sharpen their overall skills was a reason the Owls were able to lead the conference in sacrifice bunts. Improved discipline at the plate also helped the squad vault up to lead the league with 279 walks. On the defensive side Rice finished second in the conference in fielding percentage (.975) and turned a total of 46 double-plays.
While at McNeese State for three years, Van Hook worked with infielders, helped with the team's hitting, and served as the Cowboys' third base coach. He had a role in recruiting and helped MSU post its first winning record in four years in his very first season in 2010.
"Clay has been coaching a few years and he's from a baseball family who has been a student of the game his whole life,"Graham said. "His work-ethic is off the scale. He's been able to get the most out of his own ability and he will be able to do the same with the players around him.
"His father (Kyle Van Hook) was an assistant coach for me at San Jacinto for two years, and we won the national championship in both years (1989 & `90). The Van Hook family and I are 2-0 in winning national championships," Graham quipped.
A native of Brenham, Tex., Clay played one season at Navarro College before becoming a three-year letterman at the University of Texas (2005-07). He earned second team all-Big 12 and was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the major league draft. Van Hook earned his degree at Texas in 2008 while serving one season as a student-coach with the Longhorns.
Van Hook and his wife, Selina, live in Pearland, Tex. The couple welcomed their new baby, Avery Michel, born on December 30, 2012
Scott Shepperd is the newest member of the Owls coaching staff, joining the program as a volunteer for the 2013 season. He previously served five seasons as a coach at his alma mater, Concordia University in Austin, where he was a four-year baseball letterman.
At Concordia his main responsibility was as the team's hitting coach. He also worked with the infielders and catchers and was the program's summer camp coordinator.
Shepperd was a member of Concordia's American Southwest Conference West Division Coaching Staff of the Year, as the Tornados were also ranked as high as fourth nationally during the season and finished with a school-record 37 victories (in the program's NCAA Division III era). All of the regular starting infielders and catcher that Sheppard mentored garnered all-conference postseason honors while leading the Tornados to their second-straight ASC Tournament crown and NCAA West Regional appearance.
All in all, Shepperd has mentored one D3Baseball.com All-American, one All-West Region selection, two ASC West Division Players of the Year, one ASC West Division Freshman of the Year, four All-ASC First Team selection and seven student-athletes who have been honorably mentioned for All-ASC laurels.
Prior to coaching to Concordia, Shepperd served as an assistant at Sam Houston State University under head coach Mark Johnson during the 2007-08 academic year. In this position, he helped with the training and development of the infielders, catchers and hitters while also assisting with the playing surface of Don Sanders Stadium. With Shepperd on the staff the Bearkats squad won the Southland Conference Championship and made a second straight NCAA Division I Tournament appearance.
Shepperd started his coaching career at Concordia as a volunteer assistant coach. He served as the first base coach, recruiting coordinator and assistant hitting coach for the 2007 season. He also gained coaching experience as an assistant on the Anchorage Bucs staff in the Alaskan League during the summers of 2007 and 2008.
Before beginning his coaching career, Shepperd lettered with the Tornados for four years (2003-06) as a catcher and was also a player-coach during his junior and senior seasons. He helped the squad advance to the ASC Tournament every year during his playing career. The Tornados posted a 103-62 record and were co-West Division regular-season champions in 2004.
In addition to on-field duties at Rice, he will take over the administering of the Owls' popular Youth Baseball Camps (a role formerly held by current assistant coach Clay Van Hook).
Shepperd, an Austin native, comes from a coaching family. His grandfather, Cliff Gustafson, was the former winningest coach in Division I baseball history, registering a 1,427-373-2 ledger over 29 seasons (1968-96) at the University of Texas, and is a member of the National Collegiate Baseball Hall of Fame. Shepperd earned a bachelor's degree in kinesiology from Concordia in 2007 and is nearing the completion of a master's degree in education. He is married to the former Vanessa Van Hook of Brenham, Texas.