Rayvonte Rice was arguably Illinois' best player the past two seasons, and as he moves on to the next stage in his career, he will only look to get better. Rice, a product of Champaign, Illinois, started his career at Drake before transferring to join the Fighting Illini. After sitting out a year due to transfer rules, Rice earned the honors for most improved player under John Groce before even taking the court for the first time. Rayvonte Rice transformed his body and worked hard in the offseason to become a new and improved basketball player, and boy, did he take off the very next season.
Rayvonte Rice averaged 15.9 points per game his junior year and led a depleted Illinois team very close to a second straight NCAA Tournament bid. The junior Rice shot the ball at 43% from the field and pulled down 6 boards per game. His three point shooting lagged behind slightly, as the Illini newcomer only knocked down 29% of his attempts from beyond the arc.
With an impressive season behind him, Rice worked even harder during the offseason in 2014 to improve his game and become a high-level basketball player. Rayvonte Rice went on to average 16.5 points and 6.5 boards boards per game, and he would lead his team to some big victories in the early going. Rice's 17 point performance against Baylor in the Las Vegas Invitational helped the Illini get a huge early season victory and gave him the honors of tournament MVP.
Rice ran into a series of unfortunate events once conference play began. After two disappointing losses in the early going, Rayvonte Rice went down with a fractured wrist while running a play in practice. As a result, the dominant senior would have to miss the entire month of January for recovery. Right as it seemed that Rice would return to the lineup for Groce, he was announced suspended by the head coach for a violation of team rules and conduct along with fellow teammate Aaron Cosby. What exactly Rice did still remains unknown, but the one thing we know is that it isn't going to help his draft stock.
Rice would go on to have some big games down the stretch at the end of the season. He scored 20 against Iowa, 23 against Nebraska, and 25 against Purdue, but despite his scoring, the Fighting Illini fell flat down the stretch. With Rice back in the lineup, Illinois lost 6 of its last 9 games to finish on a disappointing note.
Despite missing a decent chunk of his senior season, Rayvonte Rice remains a solid prospect for the NBA. At 6'4" and 230 lbs, Rice is built like a freight train capable of crashing through the lane and finishing through contact. One of the most impressive and pivotal parts about his game is his improved three point shooting. After going just 29% from behind the arc his junior year, Rice was able to knock down 44% of his three point shots last season. As a strong guard with the ability to penetrate off the dribble, create offense, and knock down the jumper, Rice could be a huge asset in the NBA.
Rayvonte Rice is also clutch. His step-back three pointer to beat Missouri in the annual Braggin' Rights Game can tell you that much, but he wants the ball in his hand at any given moment. Rice is a playmaker who can not only give you great offensive production, but also lock-down defense. Rice averaged 1.8 steals for Illinois last season, and when he gets on a breakaway towards the basket, you better get out of the way.
All that being said, there are still some obvious question marks that follow Ray's game as he moves on to the next stage in his career. Rayvonte Rice has to be a smart basketball player. Though he was Illinois' best scorer and go-to-guy, he has to know when to take a shot and when to pass the ball up. Rice has a tendency to fall in love with his jump shot, even when nothing is falling, and when he does, he needs to create off the dribble in order to get easier buckets.
Rice certainly learned how to create offense for himself, as Illinois has been shorthanded the last two seasons. If you gave Rayvonte Rice the ball and told him to get a bucket all by himself, he'd have no problem doing that, but on a bigger stage, he's going to have a lot of help from his teammates. Rice needs to learn how to be a better passer, and that he doesn't need to have the ball to get a basket. Moving without the basketball is something that can separate good players from great players. With other scoring options, Rice is going to need to learn how to improve this part of his game.
Rayvonte Rice is a great scorer and defender and should play high-level basketball in the big leagues. If he utilizes his strengths and continues working to improve his weaknesses, then the sky's the limit for the Illinois graduate.