Remember that Rice basketball team from last year? The one that went 23-12, made the College Basketball Invitational and had hopes of competing for the conference title in the near future? The one that made the “Rice Rising” mantra head coach Mike Rhoades had preached for years finally feel real?
We all know how that ended. Head coach? See ya. Six top players? Bye. All those conference title dreams? Down the drain.
Rice Rising, however, is far from dead.
This season won’t be like last year, I know that. Egor Koulechov and Marcus Evans were two of the best players in program history. Losing them both in the same offseason along with four other top contributors is devastating no matter who replaces them.
But this isn’t the end. You want evidence that the momentum from Rice Rising isn’t gone? Look no further than recruiting. The year before Rhoades took over, Rice’s recruiting class ranked dead last in C-USA according to 247Sports. Since then, it’s consistently been near the top of the conference. Other than 2017, when head coach Scott Pera had a short recruiting season after taking the job, Rice’s class has ranked no lower than second. The program has gone from the bottom of the conference to an attractive mid-major recruiting destination in under five years.
In an abbreviated recruiting season this spring, Pera managed to add three-star recruit Najja Hunter, who projects to contribute immediately. Then he signed Josh Parrish, a sophomore transfer from Texas Christian University. Parrish was rated a three-star recruit by 247Sports and at one point ranked among the top-150 recruits in the nation according to Rivals.
The momentum did not stop there. Last Wednesday was national signing day, and Rice inked two three-star recruits to its 2018 class in guards Chris Mullins and Payton Moore. It also added two-star recruits Trey Murphy and Quentin Millora-Brown. The class currently ranks No. 2 in Conference USA and No. 68 nationally.
Pera has shrugged off the sting of losing all-time program greats and put together the future of Rice basketball in under a year. I don’t want to look too far ahead as this season tips off, but next season’s team could again be competitive in conference play. Nobody from this year’s starting lineup will graduate except for senior Bishop Mency. With two three-star recruits and Parrish coming in, the 2018-19 Owls will have a healthy mix of talented young players and experienced veterans.
There may be times this season when fans look at Rice’s record and long for the highs of last year. Remember, though, that team finished fifth in Conference USA. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but Rice Rising was never about finishing fifth. It was about making the NCAA tournament. So yeah, last year’s team was fun. But it wasn’t the end goal. Pera has taken the reins, and he’s kept the program on the trajectory toward its ultimate objective.