Marquise Rice of Durham, N.C., is 6-foot-5, 215 pounds and is going to start a sophomore high school season next month that’s likely to be memorable.
Rice has — no lie — a 45-inch vertical leap, and he’s ranked in the top 10 nationally in his class by several recruiting services.
He’s already gotten offers from schools like Boston College, N.C. Central, Ole Miss and Providence. Coaches from Duke, Louisville, N.C. State and North Carolina are among those who will be watching him throughout July, beginning with the NCAA live period July 11-14.
And Marquise Jacari Rice, 16, is taking none of this for granted. He will be one of the featured stars in this weekend’s Big Shots Carolina Invitational Tournament in Raleigh, N.C.
“My goal,” he said, “is to make sure I’m a role model for everybody where I came from. As a kid, I didn’t really know I would be in this situation right now, but I mean God gave me a talent that I can go far with, and a lot of kids aren’t able to experience something like this, so for me, I have to be thankful and take it more seriously.”
Here’s an example.
Last month, Rice and his father, Quentin, were talking about his development. Marquise had played in the prestigious NBA Players Association Top 100 camp in Virginia and had played in a USA Basketball U16 national team tryout camp. Having played against the best, the Rice men were trying to figure out how to take the next step.
“I said, ‘Man, what’s distracting you?,'” Quentin Rice said. “‘What keeps you losing focus?'”
“Dad, it’s my phone.”
That night, they agreed that Marquise would surrender his cellie, his main line to Twitter and Instagram, virtual must-haves for today’s teenagers. And he had to give up texting, too.
“Some people can’t drink because they’re addicted to it,” Quentin said. “Some things in life, people can’t handle. I told him, ‘You have got to find out what’s important. You can always get a phone.'”
The message came through quickly.
“I’m not even going to lie,” Marquise said. “It was hard for me at first, but then I kind of talked to him about it and he said that, ‘You are either going to sacrifice something now or you’re going to sacrifice something later.’ That stuck with me. I love basketball and I can’t let something so small as a phone tear my career apart.”
ALWAYS TOGETHER, ALWAYS PUSHING
Quentin Rice has raised Marquise as a single dad. He’s 6-5 like his son and played junior college ball in Asheville, N.C., and also played in Germany where he served in the Army. When he came back state-side, Quentin played in some pro-ams in Atlanta. He was pretty good himself and when he noticed his son starting to show some skill, he immediately made him play with older guys.
So when Marquise was 11, he played rec ball with 16-year-old boys. At 12, he played with men.
When he turned 13, in seventh grade, he played with Washington Wizards’ point guard John Wall’s AAU team, Team Wall.
Playing with accomplished 16 year old boys, Marquise averaged nine points per game. Two years later, he was averaging 30. His powerful build, leaping ability and dunks made him a favorite of social media photographers and videographers. Almost every game, Marquise left you with a move you might remember.
— Crown Town Classic 👑 (@CrownTownCLA) December 21, 2018
And during the current travel ball season, Rice has continued to show his development — and his potential. He was one of few freshman to play on the adidas Gauntlet 17U circuit. He averaged 15 points and seven rebounds during a session.
DEALING WITH EXPECTATIONS
Rice expects big performances. After all, this is a guy who told USA Today back in October that he had goals well beyond college.
“Some people’s goal is to make it to the NBA,” he told the national newspaper. “That’s not my goal. My goal is to be the best player in the NBA. If I just make it, I failed.”
Wall, once a similar wunderkind teenager from North Carolina, sees a little of himself in Rice, whom he’s developed a close relationship with.
“He has the body to be dominant at the shooting guard position because he’s gonna be bigger than most other shooting guards,” Wall told USA Today last year. “I love how he attacks the basket and how physical he is. He’s got that dog that you can’t teach, and he doesn’t back down from anybody. I just try to tell him to stay focused and not to let all the early praise get to him.”
And that’s hard.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” Quentin said. “He says, ‘Dad, everybody expects me to be this way and do this and I’m trying to keep myself above that.’ I tell him all the time, ‘If you love what you love and play from your heart, you’ll never be behind. You’ll always be on top.’ What I mean is that if it’s in your heart, it’s going to pay off on its own.”
That brings us back to the cell phone.
Marquise gave it up to get better, to focus more on his craft. But that wasn’t the only benefit.
“Man,” he said, “I’ve been great without it. I think better. I’m more socially involved. Just more happy. There are some days I will be like, ‘Man I miss it,’ but I’m like no. It’s only to benefit me. Before school starts, I’ll get it back, but I feel like right now, every summer, I should put it down, like boot camp, and focus on everything I need to focus on.”
THE GOLDEN CHILD
Quentin Rice laughs a lot when he talks about his son and his son’s focus.
He said that Marquise wasn’t supposed to be here.
Quentin said his ex-wife only had one Fallopian Tube and doctors told the then-couple there was a 99 percent chance that they would not have a kid. Quentin had always been close to his grandmother, Mattie Jane, and when Mattie Jane began to get sick at the end, Quentin was very sad, up until his grandmother gave him a very important message
At the same time, his ex-wife got pregnant. He decided to give Marquise the same initials as Mattie Jane, who was now Marquise’s great grandmother. Pretty soon Quentin’s family was calling Marquise “MJ,” a nickname that has stuck.
“Marquise is gifted,” Quentin said. “He’s a once-in-a-lifetime baby, a special baby. When my grandma got sick, she was like, ‘I’ll never leave you,’ and right before she got really sick, man, we’re just blown away, my ex-wife got pregnant. We’re like, ‘No way.’ But Marquise has been a great child. I’ve been blessed.”
And now, Marquise has a big July ahead, a chance to show high major college coaches that the jump shot everybody said he needed is finally honed in. Then, he’ll focus on helping his high school team, Durham Academy, try to win a state championship. A year ago, he averaged 18.5 points and 9.2 rebounds on a 28-4 team. Durham Academy reached the state semifinals for the first time in 13 years. Eight players and three starters come back.
“The best thing about (Marquise) is how hard he works at his craft,” said Durham Academy coach Tim McKenna. “He takes it very seriously and he was never content with just being one of the guys. He came in as one of the top kids in North Carolina for his class and now he’s one of the top kids in the country for his grade, and he’s really taken on the responsibility of wanting to expand his game and not just be one dimensional.”
McKenna once coached at Good Counsel High in Maryland, and while there, he coached a future NBA player, Roger Mason, as well as several high major recruits like 6-9 center Omari Isreal, who was ranked No. 1 in the nation as a high school sophomore before he went to Notre Dame.
Still, McKenna thinks Rice can be the best player he’s ever coached.
“If he remains healthy, with his work ethic and physical gifts and his want-to to be the best,” McKenna said, “no doubt he can be the best.”
For those who coach against him, Marquise can just be a nightmare.
“He can get to the basket and post you up and handle it and be outside,” said Charlotte Christian coach Shonn Brown, whose team almost annually plays Durham Academy. “He’s very versatile. In high school, that’s a coaches’ dream…And you look at him and go, ‘What, that’s a freshman?'”
Brown and McKenna both said it’s kind of scary to think that Rice has three years of high school left. But what about after that? The current 1-and-done rule that forces most high school stars, like Rice, to go to college began in 2005. But the NBA may let high school kids again go directly into the draft as soon as 2022. That would be when Rice would be coming out of Durham Academy.
Currently, some players like LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton are playing overseas before they declare for the draft to get around going to school. Rice said “that’s kind of interesting.”
“I haven’t had that question yet,” Rice said. “But there’s nothing wrong with college. I would want to go to college. But I would look at that, too.”
No matter how he gets there, Marquise ultimately wants to play in the NBA. He said his dad told him to always have an option B. He thinks about that, and he thinks about it a lot, but….
“I only have an option A,” he said, “to work my butt off to get to this NBA, to get the highest stage in basketball.”