COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Marquise Rice always gets a little laugh out of the fact that him being a member of the 2022 class is a thing that perplexes people to the point that it prompts an incredulous squint.
That said, he gets it. At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds with jumping ability that can only be described as ethereal, an efficient jump shot and an alpha male on-court mentality, Rice seems like the muse for the cliché sports phrase “man among boys.”
“It’s funny that people think I’m older than I am,” Rice said. “I guess that’s a compliment though.”
Rice isn’t an “AAU” member of the 2022 class, he’s an actual member: He just celebrated his 15th birthday Feb. 5.
“I had to carry his birth certificate around with me for a while,” Rice’s father, Quentin Rice, said. “People always questioned that. He’s just a hard worker and he’s been blessed with gifts.”
Rice, a shooting guard at Durham (N.C.) Academy, was one of 87 players from four different classes picked to compete at the USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team Minicamp this past weekend, and he did absolutely nothing to dispel “Age-Gate,” more than holding his own against the country’s top players all weekend.
“I only know how to go hard,” Marquise said. “I love this game so much and I work really hard, so when I’m on the court I want to be the best player no matter who’s out there.”
Rice had been setting the stage all summer for a big showing at the USA Minicamp, averaging 30 points a game with Team Wall (N.C.) and dominating prestigious camps like CP3 Rising Stars and the John Lucas Elite Invitational.
“He really puts everything he has into this game,” Quentin said. “I know people say that sometimes, but it’s the truth with him. He gives his all; he’s very competitive and has really high standards for himself.”
That much was evident during a shooting drill at a recent workout.
Toward the end of the session, after draining hundreds of shots, fatigue began to set in and Marquise couldn’t buy a bucket to close out strong.
Suddenly, tears of frustration began to pour out of his eyes.
“I want to be the best, so when I’m not doing that it gets to me,” Marquise said. “My tears mean that I care deep. It’s cool to have people talking about me now and things like that, but I want them to be talking about me more my senior year then in college and, hopefully, in the NBA.
“Some people’s goal is to make it to the NBA. That’s not my goal. My goal is to be the best player in the NBA. If I just make it, I failed.”
And therein lies the rare combination of maturity and skill that caught the eye of Washington Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.
The two built a bond ever since Marquise began playing for Wall’s travel team three years ago.
“John is the big bro,” Marquise said. “We text all the time and he’s a guy that I look at as a role model because he’s a great player, but he gives back so much to his community. That’s what I want to do. I appreciate having him around.”
Wall said he constantly encourages Marquise to keep a hunter’s mindset.
“Always,” Wall said. “He can be very special. He has the body to be dominant at the shooting guard position because he’s gonna be bigger than most other shooting guards. 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.”
The 24/7 distraction that is social media has chewed up and spit out countless athletes since its inception more than a decade ago.
It’s inevitable that Marquise will be the featured attraction in the social media circus for years to come because he makes “wow” plays. His 44-inch vertical leap combined with the ferocious way he attacks the basket will keep the baseline full of videographers.
Marquise has the viral potential that Mac McClung, now a freshman at Georgetown, and Zion Williamson, now a freshman at Duke, did in the 2018 class.
“You can’t avoid hype because we live in the social media era,” Quentin said. “We want him to have fun, but the perspective is to remember that what got you here is your grind. Have fun but grind harder. That and just be a kid.”
Marquise certainly fits the bill there. From chores to regularly watching “The Muppet Movie” and even carrying around a special pillow with him everywhere, he’s as regular a teenager as they come.
That’s refreshing for Durham Academy coach Tim McKenna, who has had experience coaching elite stars in the past like James Gist and Roger Mason Jr.
“He’ll be one of the best players to ever come through here if he continues to work,” McKenna said. “He’s been groomed well for what lies ahead. He’s already come in and taken on a leadership role and all his teammates love him. That’s impressive for any new player, but for a freshman it’s pretty amazing.”
Already, some colleges are sharing those sentiments.
Boston College and North Carolina Central have already offered Marquise, while Pittsburgh and Louisville are showing interest.
Naturally, he gets excited by the offers and interest from colleges. Just don’t tell him it’s because of his potential.
“I feel like I had potential back in the sixth grade,” Marquise said. “There’s no more potential with me; either I’m elite or I’m not. I feel like I am because I put in the work to be. My coach, Coach K (Kendrick Williams), always tells me don’t worry about the man that’s guarding me because he can’t stop me. Locate where the help is coming from because that’s where the challenge is.”
That mentality was on full display during Saturday’s scrimmage at the Minicamp.
Over the course of two minutes, Marquise snags a rebound and outruns everyone down the floor for a layup. Then he gets back on defense, jumps up with both hands above his head and catches a shot attempt, then throws a baseball pass down the floor, hitting his teammate in stride for a score.
Two plays later he drains a mid-range jump shot, and on the next possession he catches a pass in transition and throws down a ferocious one-handed dunk that would make you swear he had some sort of vendetta against the rim.
The “oohs” from the players and crowd of parents provide the perfect background noise as the ball bounces on the baseline.
It’s downright theatrical.
Marquise trots back down on defense as nonchalant as if he’s completed a textbook layup.
Just typical 15-year-old stuff.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY