Coach Groce Sees Strong Fit With Rice

While it was announced previously, it is now official. Former Champaign Centennial basketball star Rayvonte Rice is transferring from Drake and will have two years of eligibility with the Fighting Illini after sitting out a year. Illini coach John Groce provided details on why he feels Rice can make a positive contribution beginning in 2013.

Illinois basketball coach John Groce is happy to add Rayvonte Rice to the fold. He shared his thoughts on why he wanted to recruit the Champaign standout.

"I think the biggest thing is the comfort level I had with him dating back to the time I was at Ohio. We recruited him, so I had a feel for him and his situation. And obviously the production he's had in a very good league on a consistent basis in his two-year career at Drake on both ends of the floor in terms of respecting the game at both ends.

"I think he's got a body that's Big 10-ready. I think that will translate into his ability to score the ball. So there were a lot of factors that went into us having such a strong interest in Rayvonte."

The current Illini team lacks naturally gifted scorers. UI players can shoot and score, but Rice fills it up on a consistent basis. Groce is looking for more players like him who want the ball when the game is on the line and have a variety of options at their disposal.

"I just think he's wired to score. He's always scored. He had over 1800 points in high school. He's a gifted scorer.

"I think most gifted scorers have the ability to get to the free throw line. They have the ability to score the ball in more than one way. He has both of those things at a pretty high level. His free throw rate at Drake, and even dating back to high school, I think all natural scorers have the knack to get to the foul line."

Despite an inconsistent three point shot, Groce believes Rice has potential to improve that part of his game.

"I think he will be a guy who can consistently make shots at a higher level than he made this past season. I've watched film and looked at the type of shots he took. Something we're going to work very hard with him on is to improve that perimeter jump shot because it sets up his mid range and drive game.

"He hit 24% from three last year, and I think he's a better shooter than that. Part of it is continuing to take better shots. And part of it is continuing to work on that part of his game.

"The strength of his game offensively to this point has been scoring the basketball in the midrange and finish areas, and of course getting to the free throw line. I think he's going to bring those things to the table as well. We want him to continue to get up as many shots and continue to improve his game on the perimeter shooting front."

Groce feels Rice fits his profile of the type of player he prefers on his team.

"We'd like to have players who can play more than one position on our roster. I think versatility is important. We've had some success doing that at other places. We have a guy in Rayvonte who can do that."

The other aspect that Groce seeks in his players is a dominant, aggressive personality. He wants players who become better under pressure, who take on all comers and thrive with competition. He wants athletes who are unafraid to take the game-deciding shot and who get after it on the defensive end. He feels Rice is that type of player.

"I like Tiggers over Eyors. I like guys with a motor, it's just my personality. It doesn't mean that every guy we take or coach has that disposition. But we certainly prefer it. We call those guys self-motivated or intrinsically motivated players.

"I think all coaches would prefer that over extrinsically motivated players. I think that 'attack' word we talk about, being aggressive and attacking with motor, I think those things fall in line with what we prefer for our identity."

Rice must sit out this upcoming season due to NCAA transfer restrictions. But he can help his new teammates in practice while improving his own game.

"With Meyers (Leonard) going pro, when we add Mike LaTulip (walkon) we have 11 players prior to Rayvonte's commitment for '12. So there's no question he's going to be able to help us in practice.

"But the biggest thing, I hope he'll get out of the practices during his sit-out year as much or more than it benefits our team. There is a mutual give-and-take there. A lot of that is going to be how much Rayvonte understands that this is a special opportunity for how good he wants to be.

"So I'm hoping in addition to him helping us in practice, that at the same time we're also going to help him getting ready in that transition year so that he's an even better player when he becomes eligible for us."

It is uncertain whether Groce can find someone else to add to his current roster. He's trying, but he won't go against his long-term plan just to take someone.

"There's always a possibility. We recruit every day. It's like shaving; if you don't shave every day, you're going to look scruffy. Recruiting doesn't work out if you're not thinking about it every day.

"We have not ruled out any scenario at this point. But I do think fit is important. We are going to do something that makes sense for the long-term development of our basketball program. I didn't come here just for one season; that's not my mindset. My mindset is to create a basketball program that has consistent success and does things in a certain way both on and off the court.

"I don't want to rule it out, for sure. We've looked extensively into all the situations out there. And there is a possibility or possibilities it could happen."

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