Tyree Graham played for the team for two seasons under Rice's rule. Rice was fired Wednesday for the way he treated his players.
Graham told ABC11 he supports the coach and his coaching style and feels the punishment was too strong.
"He was trying to build Rutgers up. Rutgers was down for so long," Graham said.
Video surfaced this week showing Rice shoving and pushing players and throwing basketballs at them during practices.
"He just pushed me around a little bit. Threw a basketball at me, but at the same time I knew he just seen more in me," Graham said.
Also in the video, Rice can be heard yelling gay slurs at players.
Rutgers is the school where a student committed suicide after his roommate used a webcam to spy on him kissing another man. The school also opened an anti-bullying center.
Still, Graham believes the tough love made him a stronger person and better player.
"I see a guy that was just passionate about basketball. Sometimes the passion of the win and to be successful in doing something leaves you to the point where you do things you normally won't do," Graham said.
Although Rice has been relieved of his duties, he is set to receive a $100,000 bonus. Rutgers officials say the school is contractually obligated.
Graham told ABC11 he spoke to Rice on the phone Thursday morning. He said Rice is now lying low at home with his family.