SPARTANBURG, S.C. – No one has to remind Team Wall (N.C.) shooting guard M.J. Rice that he’s one of the few freshmen around the country, on any circuit, playing at the highest level of 17U, but he’d much rather that tidbit of information not even be a topic of conversation.
“I just look at myself as a 17U player,” Rice said. “I don’t really even think about my age because I’ve always played up. I’m just a player.”
Besides, Rice isn’t interested in the “potential” label or subconscious passes he would undoubtedly receive as a result of youth, after establishing himself as one of the top players in the 2022 class, Rice wants to be considered one of the best players on the adidas Gauntlet this spring/summer, period.
After his first adidas Gauntlet it appears he’s well on his way, leading Team Wall averaging 15 points and seven rebounds a game.
“I don’t get a benefit for being younger when I’m out there on the court,” Rice said. “None of those guys care about that; we’re all out there competing and that’s all I want.”
This past season, Rice proved to be the ultimate competitor, leading Durham (N.C.) Academy to a 28-4 record while averaging 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists a game.
Last week he participated in USA Basketball’s Junior National Camp in Minneapolis; he’ll learn over the next couple of weeks whether he’ll be invited back for the USA U16 tryouts in May.
“I gave it my all,” Rice said. “That’s all I can do. I feel like I played pretty well out there, but no matter what it won’t change how I work.”
For now, Rice said his focus with Team Wall is twofold: Play hard and “more importantly have fun.”
“Sometimes I forget that part,” Rice said. “I’m always gonna compete hard and work hard, but I want to remember to keep it fun. It’s all about what you love and that’s what I want to focus on.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY