Rayvonte Rice, the former Champaign Centennial High School star who transferred from Drake to Illinois, knows how to put the ball in the basket.
CHAMPAIGN -- Rayvonte Rice, the former Champaign Centennial High School star who transferred from Drake to Illinois, knows how to put the ball in the basket.
"He's wired to score,'' said Illini coach John Groce on Tuesday after the completed paperwork made Rice's return to his hometown official. "He's got a body that's Big Ten ready, that's going to translate his ability to score the ball.''
Last season, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Rice averaged 16.8 points a game to lead Drake and ranked second on the team with 5.8 rebounds. He also led the Missouri Valley Conference in steals at 1.9 per game. Rice shot 43 percent from the field and 24 percent from the 3-point line.
As the Ohio coach, Groce made a scholarship offer to Rice, who helped Centennial to the Class 3A state title as a junior and fourth place as a senior. Rice was named the state's Gatorade player of the year as a Centennial senior. He's the latest transfer to Illinois, and more help might be on the way.
Coastal Carolina forward Sam McLaurin is expected to visit Illinois as soon as Wednesday, and the Illini have also been mentioned as a possible destination for guard Jordan Clarkson, who is leaving Tulsa.
Rice was the first to make a move here. He was a second-team all-Missouri Valley pick after earning honorable mention as a freshman.
"The biggest thing is the comfort level I had with him dating back to when I was at Ohio,'' Groce said. "I had a feel for him and the production he had in a very good league on a consistent basis over two years at Drake on both ends of the floor.
"There were a lot of factors that went into having such a strong interest in Rayvonte.''
With Crandall Head's decision to leave the team following the fall semester (he indicated he may transfer to SMU, where former Illini assistant Jerrance Howard now works), Meyers Leonard's jump to the NBA and incoming freshman Michael Orris' request for a scholarship release, the Illini were left with 10 scholarship players.
Rice won't be allowed to play until the 2013-14 season because of NCAA transfer rules, but he gives the Illini another practice player and an experienced guard after Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson finish their careers next season. Meanwhile, Illinois will work on Rice's shooting form and shot selection.
"Shooting 24 percent from three, I think he can be a better shooter than that,'' Groce said. "We'll work on continuing to take better shots and working on his game. The strength of his game is scoring the ball, his finishing ability and getting to the free-throw line. He's going to bring those things to the table.''
With Groce returning to campus Tuesday, he'll get to spend time with McLaurin on Wednesday. The 6-8, 230-pounder averaged 10.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in the Big South Conference, and he would be immediately eligible as a fifth-year senior who already graduated, like the transfer of Sam Maniscalco from Bradley to Illinois.
He visited Drake last weekend and also received interest from Virginia, Alabama-Birmingham and Western Kentucky. McLaurin shot 65 percent from the field and 55 percent from the free-throw line.
According to a report, Clarkson will visit Illinois, Missouri and possibly three other schools after getting his release from Tulsa in a transfer the school first attempted to block. Clarkson, a San Antonio native, averaged 16.5 points last season for a program that made a coaching change.
After a messy exchange in the media from Clarkson's family and the school, Tulsa gave him a near full release, blocking only four schools from his plans.
NOTES: Illini golf coach Mike Small and senior Luke Guthrie were named Big Ten coach and player of the year after the Illini won their fourth straight league title. Guthrie is the league's back-to-back champ. ... Belleville Althoff junior defensive tackle Merrick Jackson committed to the Illini. He is a three-star recruit.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.