Maureece Rice has never liked interviews.
Until this year, he tried to duck media conferences after basketball games with teammate Carl Elliott, scurrying up the stairs to the exit at Smith Center. It was a maturity thing, he said while looking down at his cell phone Tuesday afternoon in the 22nd Street arena. Interview requests have been pouring in since high school, when he was called from class to talk to reporters about breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s high school scoring record in Philadelphia. Rice is just starting to open up, he said.
Maureece Rice used to be a pure scorer. It was a God-given talent, he said. In college, he was forced to fall back into a passive role, dishing the ball off to teammates. He still scores an unostentatious 20 points most nights. To onlookers, it seems like he’s had eight or 10.
By Foggy Bottom standards, Maureece Rice is as bland as they come. All the things that have come to popularize the GW men’s basketball team – most notably the I-want-to-be-on-Top-10 dunks – don’t consume Rice.
“I’m humble, man,” he said. “Ask anyone who has known me for a long time. I’m humble and laid-back.”
GW head coach Karl Hobbs said he saw something in Rice, a city kid who spent the first 18 years of his life confined to his neighborhood.
“His mother said to me, ‘Maureece just needs someone to give him a chance,'” Hobbs recalled.
Now, he has a different kind of chance. The opportunity to become the third recent GW player in the NBA and continue to pursue a dream that many thought he would miss.
A player that was doubted for much of his teenage years, Rice spent the last six years in the spotlight. Some remember him as one that gives up too easily. Bishop McDuffie, the headmaster at Laurinburg Academy in North Carolina, remembers when Rice came to the prep school in 2004, hoping to catch on with their elite, 40-person team. He wasn’t so successful.
“Some people are not willing to push hard enough,” McDuffie said.
He left Carolina after three weeks. The year before that, he left an Adidas development camp after one day because he wasn’t getting enough possessions, ESPN said.
Some remember him for Dec. 22, 2002. A sell-out crowd of more than 8,000, including Allen Iverson, saw Rice cross over LeBron James during a high school game, forcing the now-NBA titan to the hard floor of the Palestra in Philadelphia.
“They came to see the two of us, let’s face it,” James told the Cleveland Plain Dealer after his team won 85-47.
Half of that “us” is now in the NBA, making nearly $12.5 million this season.
The other half is known in Foggy Bottom as “Reece.” He is not living in a 35,000-square foot house like James. He lives in Francis Scott Key Hall on 21st Street and averaged 15.8 points per game for the GW men’s basketball team last season.
Rice, who announced on Monday that he will enter the NBA Draft, is more unsure than sure what the next few months will hold. He said he does not know if he’ll be invited to the NBA pre draft camp in Orlando, Fla. His parents are still calculating how he will fund cross-country voyages to work out for NBA teams. But Rice is the first GW player under Hobbs that seems as though he is serious about his intentions to consider the NBA.
“Hopefully I’ll be good enough to stay in there but if not, I got my senior year,” Rice said. “I’m not going to go off what I hear from one person; I’m going to listen to a lot of people.”
If Rice took advice from some in high school, he may have never seen Foggy Bottom. He was among the top 25 players in the nation and had a chance to go pro.
“The NBA has always been on my mind but not coming out of high school,” Rice said. “I never looked at it that way. I wanted to come to college and experience this life and then take it from there.”
The juggernaut of the NBA Draft confuses Rice. He seems unsure where to go, what to do and what comes next. If he listens to Hobbs, he will likely be back.
“He knows how good he is,” Hobbs said. “It’s important for him to develop as a player.”
Rice doesn’t seem to care how others see him. For the first time in a long time, he’s in a comfort zone. No longer bouncing around high schools, he’s found a home in Foggy Bottom and he’s reshaped himself.
Maureece Rice doesn’t like interviews. But things have changed.
“I grew up,” Rice said.