ROSEMONT, Ill. – Rayvonte Rice’s transition from Drake to Illinois has been a smooth one.
“Maybe the best I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching, in terms of the amount of weight he lost, to the body fat decreasing, to how much of a better shooter he’s become, to his grade-point average, to his mental approach,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “He’s come a long way in a year, and he’s really improved, big time, in a lot of areas.”
Getting shots was never an issue for Rice, recruited out of Champaign by Mark Phelps. Rice played 64 games over two seasons at Drake, starting 62 times. He left Drake after earning second-team all-Missouri Valley Conference honors in 2011-12. He led the Bulldogs in scoring, and was third in the MVC, averaging 16.8 points.
Rice also set a Drake freshman scoring record in 2011 with 428 points (13.8-point average). Illinois wasn’t interested in Rice as a senior at Centennial High School in Champaign. Rice grew up watching games at Assembly Hall. His favorite Illini players were Cory Bradford, Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head.
“He’s been watching Illinois basketball since he was little and it really means something to put on that jersey and play for his state school,” Groce said. “So we’re excited to have Ray, and have big hopes for him this season.”
Rice started in Illinois’ first exhibition game October 24, scoring 13 points in 24 minutes.
“It was the first time he’d been out there in awhile,” Groce said. “He had some jitters a little bit, he’d be the first one to tell you that.”
Speaking of Drake transfers…The NCAA granted Joey King a waiver on Oct. 20, making the Drake transfer eligible immediately at Minnesota. King, from Eagan, Minn., was granted the waiver because of a family situation.
“We’re thankful he got eligible,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said.
King, a forward, made the Missouri Valley Conference all-freshman team last season after averaging 6.9 points and 2.9 rebounds a game.
“We needed front-court depth, because we didn’t have it,” Pitino said. “To get a 6-8 guy eligible right away, that would have been better than any recruit we could have gotten out of high school. He’s got college experience, and he would have been one of the better players in the Missouri Valley Conference, I would guess.”
Pitino said that King brings a lot to the table.
“He’s the best screener, the best talker, the best charge taker,” Pitino said. “He’s the guy who raises the intensity at practice every day. When you’re building a program, that’s huge.”
Category: Big Ten