has been receiving from colleges over the past few months seemingly has grown by the day.
Similar to the plight of the 6-foot-3 sophomore who is sure to remain one of the nation's top recruits from the Class of 2014 is that of the Reynoldsburg (Ohio)
girls basketball team that she has been leading to new heights this winter. After the Raiders made their first appearance in the Division I state tournament in 2010, they were upset in a regional semifinal a year ago.
Little, however, seems to be holding back Rice or her teammates this winter.
Reynoldsburg is 22nd in the
MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Girls Basketball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard
and enters the postseason coming off its first perfect regular season. The Raiders, who are 20-0 and recently won their second consecutive OCC-Ohio Division championship, also are the No. 1-ranked team in the state.
"We set our schedule up to really challenge these kids academically and athletically," coach Jack Purtell said. "It's really an honor to have such good kids. At no time did we talk about going undefeated or being state poll champions, but as it's turned out, it's been a dream season."
Despite the blossoming abilities of Rice, the Raiders have been far from a one-player show this season. Rice leads Reynoldsburg in points (13) and rebounds (8.5) per game, but several others on the team average between seven and 12 points. There are only two seniors: Aliyah Zantt
, who averages 12 points and has signed with Eastern Michigan, and backup Adesuwa Aideyman
. Destini Cooper
, a 6-foot post player, and Yamonie Jenkins
and Shiloh Murphy
are juniors who all have received interest from Mid-American Conference schools as well.
Cooper, Jenkins and Zantt all were key players in 2010 when the Raiders lost to eventual state-champion Canton McKinley 42-39 in overtime in a state semifinal. Last season, Reynoldsburg was ranked fifth in the final state poll but lost to Lakota East (Liberty Township, Ohio) 46-44 in a regional semifinal. The Raiders finished 23-2 a year ago for their best record in program history.
"It's been amazing," Jenkins said. "After we lost all of those seniors (from the 2010 team), we didn't think we were going to be any good last year, but now that we see how good we are, it's unbelievable. (Last year) has been a big motivator for us."
"The (2010 team) was a very strong-willed, senior-laden team that had some strong personalities," Purtell said. "This team is a lot different. There's more size, more speed and probably a lot more skill. The success we've had goes to show how much these kids have sacrificed. I've been lucky to see this come through. We're a defensive-minded team first, (but) they could all average 15 to 20 points if they played on other teams."
Rice started every game a season ago, averaging 9.8 points and 6.7 rebounds for a team that had just one senior.
This season, the advancement of her game has continued. In addition to her size and athleticism, Rice's aggressiveness down low and her ability to hold her ground defensively has helped her become a standout.
One of the few things she'll likely focus on improving over the next two-plus years is her physical strength. Ohio State and Michigan State have been among the schools to send her an early offer, according to Purtell. West Virginia, Maryland, Notre Dame and Kentucky are others who have shown interest.
"She's a really good athlete who has worked hard on her shooting," Purtell said. "I think her outside shooting has really improved because she shoots 500 free throws and 500 jumpers a week. Her strength and footwork have developed, and she's an athletic 6-3. She's not a skinny 6-3."
Rice isn't planning to trim the list of schools interested in her any time soon.
"It's been crazy," Rice said. "I just try to keep a level head because I've got plenty of work to do. I have to stay humble and keep playing hard. What I really want to do this year is help us try get back to state."Jarrod Ulrey has covered prep sports for ThisWeekSPORTS.com for 17 years and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.