Player Spotlight: Illinois G Rayvonte Rice
You would think a university would try their best to tap into local high schools for talent.
You would also think if a major collegiate basketball program was led by a mid-major transfer that they’d be in some sort of flux.
That’s what makes Rayvonte Rice special.
Rice’s high school, Champaign Centennial, gained state-wide recognition after winning the IHSA 3A state championship in 2009. Rice would also collect tournament MVP honors that year as a junior and the whispers grew louder in anticipation of when he would make his college decision.
Former Illinois head coach Bruce Weber did not recruit Rice heavily during his tenure. That led the 2010 Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois to cause a lot of controversy by committing to Drake University.
The Bulldogs were only two years removed from one of the best seasons in their history and making an NCAA Tournament appearance as a five seed, when Rice arrived in Des Moines, Iowa, as a freshman.
The questions surrounded Rice from the time he committed to the Bulldogs, until the day he officially transferred to Illinois. How could a unanimous first-team All-State selection not only be overlooked by the hometown Illini, but pick a middle-of-the-pack Missouri Valley Conference member, in Drake?
Maybe Rice knew something others didn’t, but one thing was for sure; he made his time at Drake worthwhile.
The all-time leading scorer at Champaign Centennial High School started all but two games in his two years and averaged 15.3 points per game. He earned Missouri Valley All-Freshman team honors in 2011 and second team All-Missouri Valley honors as a sophomore in 2012.
One question mark of his character came up as his freshman season was just beginning. Rice and a teammate were caught allegedly shoplifting $50 worth of athletic socks and suspended.
After Bruce Weber was fired in 2012 and John Groce was awarded the head coaching job, all Rice needed was a ticket back home to Champaign.
Groce recruited Rice heavily while at Ohio University, so the Champaign native decided to transfer to the Illini over Xavier.
Rice was forced to sit out the 2012-2013 season due to NCAA transfer regulations and took advantage of another great opportunity.
At the end of the year basketball banquet, Rice was awarded the team’s Most Improved Player award. That says a lot for a player who didn’t log one minute of actual playing time and practiced against guys like Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson every day.
On top of that, Rice dropped 45 pounds to get down to 235 and got his body fat content below 10% during his redshirt year, to prepare for the wear and tear of a Big Ten schedule.
The dieting and practice all have seemed to pay off, as Rice is currently the leading scorer in the Big Ten, averaging 19 points per game for the 12-2 Illini.
Coming off his two highest point totals of the season, it’s accurate to say Rice is the leading force for an upstart Illinois program looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Rice’s path to glory certainly hasn’t been like his cousin and Champaign Centennial and Illinois grad, Mikel Leshoure, who had a brief stint in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, after achieving high praise during his tenure with the hometown Illini.
The stats don’t always tell the story, and for Rayvonte Rice, it simply shows how to make the best of any situation.
Ryan Stevens is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
Photo Courtesy: (AP PHOTO/Bradley Leeb)
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Ryan is a senior from Bloomington, Illinois majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in english. He has been involved with numerous radio shows, play-by-plays, beat writes and producing various Penn State athletics events since his first days of being on campus in the fall of 2012 with ComRadio. Since the fall of 2013, Ryan has been involved with State College’s ESPN Radio 1450 as an assistant producer intern and high school football reporter.
During the summer of 2014, Ryan co-hosted Sports Central with Cory Giger streaming over Altoona, Pa. and State College Pa. markets. Ryan also assisted USA Basketball media coverage in New York for World Cup of Basketball exhibition games.
Ryan was the marketing & communications intern for USA Track & Field at the national office in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was the media contact for the 2015 USATF Hershey Youth Outdoor Championships as well as the 2015 National Junior Olympics.