When a local or area athlete is having a banner season, such as what Rayvonte Rice is enjoying this year at Centennial in basketball. there seems to be a groundswell saying he should stay close to home for his collegiate career and play for the Illini even after he has committed elsewhere. (Illini fans: remember Eric Gordon?)
I understand the sentiment, especially when the local team is enduring something of a transition season.
However, my feeling is that in virtually all cases, it works out best for all concerned if the player in question settles on a college away from his hometown.
The question is not whether Rayvonte Rice could play at the UI because I believe his skills are good enough to contribute for the Illini.
So, why do I advocate going elsewhere?
Players such as Rice have established such a strong legacy locally that the pressures of expectation on them are much greater in their hometowns than elsewhere. At Drake, he will enter as a highly recuited player with a good resume, but few people will expect him to pick up where he left off in high school. Few people will have actually seen him play and the pre-formed opinions will be less as will the projections on what he can do immediately.
Locally, he would be remembered and revered for the steal he made at state, for the rebound he cleared to keep his team in the lead or for the three-pointer or dirving shot that helped build a margin.
We have seen this scenario repeatedly. To name a couple, Brett Melton was a two-time Area Player of the Year at Mahomet-Seymour, but had difficulty getting going at the UI and eventually wound up elsewhere. In a previous era, Dennis Graff was the greatest basketball player ever to play for Gibson City's Greyhounds. While he had some games of note with the Illini in the 1970s, his career never flourished like many had expected.
It will be good for Rice to get away from the buddies he has known all his life and establish new friendships. There is the temptation, when you're close to home, to pal around with those you know best, even if a group of them happens to call the night before a final exam.
It's more than basketball. You grow up quicker when you're fending for yourself in a new environment, finding time to do your own laundry while juggling practice and classroom schedules. You learn discipline and responsibility.
It's my belief that Brian Cardinal wouldn't have had the career at Illinois that he had at Purdue, nor would Roger McClendon have earned the accolades as an Illini as he did at Cincinnati.
I will grant that exceptions can be found. I'm not saying it would be impossible for Rice to excel as an Illini like he has as a Centennial Charger. I'm saying he made the right decision and folks should be comfortable with that and wish him the best on what should be a prosperous and productive collegiate career.