USA Basketball: Playing up two age groups helped 2022 SG M.J. Rice develop a dominant mindset

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – M.J. Rice was willing to fail.

A month before he was set to kickoff the spring/summer season with Team Wall (North Carolina), the sophomore shooting guard briefly debated whether he would play with his 15U age group or play up two levels at 17U where most of the country’s most elite players dwell.

“I didn’t have to think about it long,” said Rice, who hails from Durham (North Carolina) Academy. “I could stay at my age group and average 30-40 points and for some guys that’s cool; for me, I want to play against the guys who are supposed to be bigger and stronger and better. Whether I failed or played great, I knew I would learn.”

Good thing for Rice it turned out to be the latter, averaging 17.5 points and eight rebounds a game for Team Wall this summer. That’s the highest scoring average of any five-star player in the 2022 class at that level.

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“I already feel like I’m ahead of guys my age because of the experience,” said Rice, widely regarded as a top 15 player in his class. “I wasn’t worried about looking bad, I was worried about staying at the same level. I didn’t want to look better, I wanted actually be better and be able to see that I got better. I can see it.”

The two greatest tangible improvements for Rice this summer are his ball handling and his jump shot; Rice shot 48 percent from the three-point line.

That production has caught the attention from Boston College, Houston, Colorado, N.C. State, Pittsburgh, Providence, Ole Miss and North Carolina Central, among others.

“I just took it as a challenge this summer,” Rice said. “Everything people said that I needed to get better at, I worked on it. Now, my mentality is just to kill everything.”

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He’s taken that approach this weekend at the USA Basketball Junior Minicamp, standing out in scrimmages and efficiently running through drills with and against most of the country’s best players.

Expect his dominant mentality to carry over to the high school season.

“I’ve picked up on so much this summer, and this year I am really gonna let it all out,” Rice said. “All my aggression, all my adversity, all the tears, all of the people doubting me, all of the times me and my dad are working in the gym, all of it. I’m sacrificing a lot first, so my teammates will see it and do the same. I’m in straight kill mode now.”

Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY

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