It’s easy to forget about Rayvonte Rice. The Champaign native is usually seen wearing street clothes on the end of the Illinois bench as he sits out this season after transferring from Drake after a couple of productive seasons.
He’s a regular on the practice floor, though, and he’s been working on his game while preparing to be a major contributor with his two remaining years of eligibility.
“There’s days where he’s really dominant. He’s really talented, physically strong,” Groce said. “He can pass, dribble and defend and rebound. He’s really a good player.”
Rice was a second-team All-Missouri Valley pick as a sophomore and is 17 points shy of reaching 1,000 for his career. He was third in the league in scoring (16.8 points per game), and averaged 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals.
“There’s days where you’d like for him to be a little more consistent,” Groce said. “He’s been more consistent here second semester than he was first semester, so that’s progress. He’s working at it, getting extra lifting, extra shots because he’s not playing. He’s definitely gotten better, that’s for sure.”
The biggest difference with Rice has been transforming his body. He says his weight was in the high 260s at Drake. Groce says he’s at about 235 pounds now.
The Illinois conditioning program, headed by Mike Basgier, has been a major part of Rice’s body transformation. But so has his diet.
“I used to eat a lot of my mom’s home cooking. I’m not going to say I cut that all the way out, but eating a lot less of that,” the former News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year from Centennial said. “She just said she was going to have to stop cooking so much.”
Rice has been working to perfect his outside shot. He shot 27 percent from beyond the three-point line in two seasons at Drake.
“It’s coming along. Coach challenged me to make 15,000 three-pointers while they’re gone during the season,” Rice said. “I can see it getting better and better. I’m just trying my best to do what I can do every day. I’m trying to make Brandon (PAUL) and D.J. (RICHARDSON) better players — those are the guys I guard in practice. I try to challenge them, put pressure on them like they’re going to get in the games.”
Rice has sat and watched as the Illini have struggled to shoot the ball with the same consistency from outside as they did earlier in the season. He’s acted as a cheerleader to keep his teammates’ confidence high.
“Just keep encouraging them. Tyler’s had a rough go shooting the ball,” he said. “Just keep encouraging them. D.J., every time he gets it, just tell him to shoot the ball. Brandon, he’s a scorer, so go do what you do.”