Rodney Rice Scouting Report
A Class to Remember?
Virginia Tech's 2022 recruiting class has a chance to go down as one of the best in recent memory.
With four talented high school seniors already signing Letters of Intent and more recruits still uncommitted, Hokie fans should be proud of the group Mike Young and Co. are putting together.
We will spend the next week going through scouting reports on each of the four players committed to joining the Hokies next season.
Starting at the top of the class, we will look at 6'4 combo guard Rodney Rice from DeMatha High School in Clinton, MD.
With a 0.9788 composite rating, Rice is the highest-rated prospect in VT's class and the third-highest in program history.
Let's take a look at what makes Rice so special.
It's no secret: Rodney Rice can light it up.
With a smooth, quick release and a willingness to pull the trigger at any time, Rice will remind fans of fellow Hokies Darius Maddox, Hunter Cattoor and Sean Pedulla with his ability to get hot in a hurry.
With his 6'4 frame, he should be able to get his shots off in traffic where some smaller guards may struggle.
There can be a slight side-to-side motion with his right hand in his shot at times, but this is nothing to be too concerned with. He still manages to put the proper spin on the ball and knock down shots consistently.
He can do so spotting up:
Or off the dribble:
In each situation, Rice was able to quickly square his shoulders and point his feet toward the target before getting the shot off. This sort of consistent fluidity as a shooter is hard to find.
Between spotting up and shooting off of the dribble, Rice seems to be a bit more comfortable with the latter.
This leads to the next aspect of Rice's game that gives him truly elite scoring potential...
Since Rice spent much of his time in high school playing point guard for his DeMatha Stags, he had to be more than just a spot-up shooter if he wanted to score.
Often serving as the offensive initiator, Rice would use his combination of quickness, ball-handling, court vision, and, of course, shooting to find opportunities for himself off the bounce.
In the above clip, we see Rice putting his defender in a spin cycle before quickly nailing the pull-up jumper.
Notice Rice's eyes; they shift to whatever direction he wants the defender to believe he is planning to go until he is ready to shoot.
Once Rice gathers, his eyes are laser-focused on one thing: the hoop. Though the defense is beginning to swarm around him, he keeps his eyes on the prize.
Rice has a natural ability to sense where the defenders are without having to look directly at them. This is huge, as players can often let their eyes drift to what is happening around them and not focus on their shot. This often causes the player's shooting motion to get out of sync.
As you can see, this will likely not be an issue for Rice.
In these two clips, what really stands out is his crossover move. It is truly marvelous.
If a defender does not have his feet fully set, Rice can shift directions in a flash and leave his man two steps behind him. That is more than enough time for Rice to get his shot up.
But Rice's creativity does not just create opportunities for himself...
Point Guard Skills
When discussing Rice in circles that are familiar with his body of work, one question often seems to pop up: is Rice a point guard or a shooting guard?
It is natural to see Rice's shooting and somewhat longer frame and assume his best position would be as an off-ball scorer; especially when his scoring resembles that of Darius Maddox's so much.
But I look at Rice and see a very capable college point guard.
Take a look at that pass!
Rice sees that his teammate is about to cut, anticipates it, and throws a beautiful pass into the tight window with both speed and precision that sets the cutter up perfectly for the layup.
Here is another example of this passing:
This is another dime - and a no-looker at that.
His teammate blows the layup to make him miss on the assist, but the pass was perfect nonetheless. He shows much of the same touch in his passes as he does in his jump shots.
And you could also see Rice ready to make that pass as soon as he walked up the court. In fact, he has been trained by his DeMatha coaching staff to read defenses well and find the open man.
Here we see Rice driving to the elbow, where he picks up the help defender.
He understands that in this situation, he has moved past his defender, meaning the help defender (on the right) will have to choose to leave his man and pick up Rice or stay home.
Rice sees that he chooses the former and ropes a pass into his teammate's hands for the dunk.
Knowing that he is often seen as a threat to score, Rice anticipates the defense will focus harder on him, and he has the vision and passing to make them pay.
Let's look at a couple more examples:
In both of these samples, Rice is anticipating the defense's moves and acting accordingly.
Each time, he sets up a three-point shooter on the wing by moving in the opposite direction and drawing over attention.
In these plays, timing is everything. Both times, the shooter is open, but only for a second. These two passes have to come in at just the right time.
If they come too early, not enough space will have been created for the shooter before the defense follows the ball. If they come too late, the defense will have had enough time to adjust, closing the window.
The sign of a true point guard is not only being able to know that these passes need to be made, but also feeling the defense well enough to nail the timing. Rice does this on multiple occasions.
It is logical to see that Sean Pedulla may have locked down the VT starting point guard role for the next few years. But if Rice does not crack the starting lineup as a freshman, it would make sense for him to serve as the backup point guard in year one.
When Pedulla and Rice are on the floor together, VT could have more flexibility with two capable point guards playing at the same time. Each could have his share of possessions handling the ball while the other gets to flex his off-ball muscles.
There is one final strength I want to touch on:
Every aspect we have laid out above makes Rice elite at leading a fast break.
He sees the floor well, puts great touch on his passes, and moves quickly and smoothly with the ball in his hands.
Let's look at some examples:
In each of these plays, Rice gets the ball and is immediately ready to move down the court.
Notice that he does not push too hard and lose control; he moves down the court gracefully and waits for the perfect moment to make a pass.
Transition offense was a struggle at times this season for the Hokies as they failed at times to capitalize on opponents' turnovers.
Rest assured that when Rodney Rice steals the ball, the Hokies will have a great chance for an easy bucket on the other side.
At 185 pounds, Rice is not exactly large for someone at his height.
As most high school players enter college skinny, Rice will be no exception. He will have to work hard to build strength to hold his own against the physical defenders he will see in the ACC.
At times, Rice can struggle when he is dealing with that type of defense. I want to look at one example in particular:
In this play, Rice starts off the ball in the far corner.
You can see that he is trying to get separation from his defender (#5) and get open, but the physical defense does not allow him to.
In fact, Rice is kept from reaching his spots so tightly that he has to catch the ball 30 feet from the basket because it is the only space he can find.
From there, the defender stays in his grill and makes life difficult for him. As Rice tries to use his dribbling to get by him, the defender stands firm and pokes the ball away, resulting in a turnover.
This is a time when a little more muscle mass could have made it easier for Rice as he could have dictated where he wanted to catch the ball.
Even if he caught the ball in the same spot, he would have been able to use a combination of power and finesse to keep the play moving and get by the defender.
Without getting his body stronger, Rice may struggle at times at VT if he is facing a team's best perimeter defender.
This is a common issue for many high school players, but at times, Rice can appear a bit lackadaisical on the court.
Looking at this play, as Rice transitions from defending the inbound pass to guarding his man, he starts out a step behind as his man moves to the corner.
From there, Rice lacks an extra level of intensity that would have been needed to stop his man from scoring.
You can see his awareness as a defender once he recovers from the initial miscue; he goes over the screen well and stays with his man.
However, Rice's movement in this play is that of someone trying to stay in front of his man and not someone trying to stop his man from moving.
The missing intensity makes Rice a fraction late on closing out, giving the player enough time to get a clean shot off.
These types of plays can not happen against ACC guards. There are a lot of very good shot-makers, and Rice will need to be willing to fight as hard as he can to keep his man from scoring.
I have little doubt this is a trait he will pick up with time in Virginia Tech practices, but it is an issue that will need to be addressed.
Reminds Me Of...
Taller Darius Garland
When I look at Rodney Rice, I see flashes of Cleveland Cavaliers' point guard Darius Garland.
Garland, a 6'1, 193 lb third-year point guard, took the NBA by storm this season as he earned his first All-Star bid and was a finalist for the Most Improved Player award.
He finished the year averaging 21.7 points and 8.6 assists while shooting 46.2 percent from the field, 38.3 percent from three, and 89.2 percent from the free-throw line.
Though Rice is a few inches taller, I see a lot of similarities in how the two players' games are constructed.
Obviously, it is difficult to project Garland's career path on anyone. So few players become NBA All-Stars. I am simply drawing comparisons to how these two choose to approach the game of basketball.
Let's start with the obvious: shooting.
Both players are elite at hitting threes off of passes:
Garland also has such smooth movement with the ball in his hands at all times. Much like Rice, he gives off an aura that he is always in control as he carves the defense apart.
For both players, this comes from their lateral quickness and fine-tuned ball-handling.
Both can also finish in traffic with a floater:
Rice has a lot of the qualities that make Garland great, and those are sure to come out when he takes the floor in maroon and orange.
What can his role be?
There is a lot to be determined with what the 2022-23 roster will look like for the Hokies. They are still active pursuers of both high school recruits and transfers.
No matter what, though, if Rice is able to put in the work and prove he can hang in the ACC, you can expect to see him have a sizable role on this team pretty quickly.
I would not expect him to be a starter, as the backcourt is pretty set in Pedulla, Maddox, and Cattoor. However, I would expect him to be one of the first players off the bench, possibly even playing 15-20 minutes per game.
From there, his role could continue to increase throughout his career.
Rice has a chance to end his time in Blacksburg with whatever legacy he chooses to leave. This is one of the most gifted players that the Hokies have ever had, and he will have ample opportunity to cement himself in the lore of Cassell Coliseum legends.