The former Walton High School standout was chosen Thursday in the second round of the NBA draft with the 35th overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers. His rights were soon traded to the Washington Wizards for two other second-round picks, South Dakota State guard Nate Wolters and Oregon forward Arsalan Kazemi.
Some mock drafts leading up to draft night had Rice slotted as a potential late first-round pick, but he ultimately slipped into the second round. Second-round picks are not guaranteed contracts, leaving Rice to impress the Wizards once training camp starts in the fall.
Rice made himself known as a shooter during his one season in the D-League, averaging 25 points in the postseason to lead the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to a championship.
The Wizards, meanwhile, are looking to improve in the scoring department at distant third in the Southeast Division last season.
Now, Rice, who could not be reached for comment, has to prove he can deliver at the sport’s highest level.
“His work ethic has improved. I think people will be surprised,” Walton coach Joe Goydish said of the 6-foot-6 guard. “He’s going to have an opportunity to make the team, contribute and have a really solid pro career.”
It didn’t look that way late in the 2011-12 season, when Rice was dismissed from Georgia Tech, following his arrest on a charge of permitting an unlawful operation by allowing an intoxicated driver to drive, and a passenger to discharge a firearm.
Rice, the son and namesake of the former NBA All-Star and 3-point specialist, was also suspended more than once during the same season for violation of team rules. He was also benched for the final five games of the 2010-11 campaign by then-Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt for disciplinary reasons.
Instead of transferring to another college and having to sit out a full year, Rice close the D-League and wasn’t selected by the Vipers until the fourth round.
Twenty-two games into the Vipers’ season, Rice was averaging just 6.6 points per game, but when he was given his first start in February, he took advantage by scoring a season-best 35 points in a Feb. 4 game.
“A year ago at this time, no one would have guessed it,” Goydish said. “We texted back and forth right before he was drafted, and right after, and I told him how proud of him we were and wished him the best. He brings a lot to the table, and his work ethic has improved.”
Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said the team had Rice rated highly “due to his shooting ability and overall game.”
“He was able to use his season in the D-League to show that his commitment to the game matched his talent, and we’re confident that he will work hard to take advantage of this opportunity,” Grunfeld said on the Wizards’ website.
When Rice was playing for Goydish at Walton, he was an all-state selection his junior and senior seasons and was the Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Player of the Year following the 2007-08 season, in which he averaged 25 points per game. He was then part of a Georgia Tech recruiting class highlighted by Derrick Favors, now in the NBA with the Utah Jazz.
One of Rice’s former rivals in both high school in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Wheeler product Richard Howell, was projected as a potential late second-round pick following a standout career at North Carolina State, but went undrafted.