Updated: Jun 11
North Carolina native Marquise “MJ” Rice prides himself on defying the odds and being an example for others within his community. At this stage, Rice is no stranger to the spotlight as he emerged on the recruiting trail from an early age, earning his first D-1 offer while in 8th grade. His production and trajectory was on a fast track until he suffered a lower leg injury that kept him out his sophomore season. After going through rehab and working his way back onto the court, Rice made the decision to transfer from Durham High School (NC) to the prestigious Oak Hill Academy (VA) in order to take his game to the next level.
While Rice is still getting back to 100% health, he hasn’t wasted any time getting back to a form of his dominant self. After a stellar performance at The St. James NIBC Invitational, Rice reminded coaches and opponents just how talented and versatile of a prospect he is. Measuring at 6’5” and weighing in at 205 pounds, Rice has the build and intensity to take it to bigs inside and the foots peed to hang with guards on the perimeter. A positionless player in every positive sense of the word, he is in the process of refining his ability to stretch the floor and generate space off the bounce as a hybrid guard/wing/forward. While he’s playing well now, Rice is poised to have a breakout senior season once fully healthy.
As part of the Pro Insight Q&A series, Rice discusses his decision to join Oak Hill, what he’s learned from his time with USA Basketball, his recruitment update, various off-court interests, and much more.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2022 prospect MJ Rice, from Henderson, North Carolina:
Pro Insight: Can you share a bit about your background?
MJ Rice: I’m MJ Rice, I’m from Henderson, North Carolina. I go to Oak Hill, class of 2022. My story I would say is I didn’t really start taking basketball serious until my 8th grade year going into high school. Before that, basketball was fun to play, but I didn’t really look at it from a business aspect in terms of ‘I can go to the league, I can make money off this, I can help my family and my kids when I get there.’ Yeah, so 8th grade is when I started taking it serious. I stay with my dad, it wasn’t easy growing up, but we made it happen and without him I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I feel like a lot of the stuff he taught me is coming into play as I get older and when I go out into the real world dealing with business or people. He always taught me, “you’ve got to have a certain mindset to make it in this world,” especially dealing with people or dealing with stuff internally. You’ve got to have people to lean on, but more importantly you’ve got to trust God, you’ve got to put God first. You’ve got to have a positive mindset through your journey, whatever that may be, but mine is basketball so I really have to have discipline and a good mindset. That’s something he always taught me. I feel like if I didn’t carry that on up until now then I wouldn’t be as far along as I am now. Especially given, the “MJ Rice, he’s top-10 in the country. Goes to Oak Hill, he’s a good kid” talk. I feel like if I didn’t keep that up then I wouldn’t be where I am now. So those were some things that he taught me growing up and I really appreciate him because look how it turned out to be. So that’s a basic background of myself and how I got started.
PI: Do you have any siblings?
MR: Yeah I’ve got four brothers — two older and two younger.
PI: Do they play sports as well?
MR: Yeah, my oldest brother played in college, I forget what college he played for, it was a while back. My second oldest brother didn’t really play basketball, but he did it for fun. The brother under me, he’s around 9 years old and I don’t know if he wants to get into sports like that. My youngest [brother] is 2 years old, he’s got a whole lot of life ahead of him to figure out what he wants to do. More than likely they will play basketball, they see their big brother doing it so more than likely they’ll want to do it, too. Growing up and seeing my brother play basketball, I was like ‘I definitely want to play basketball as well.’ So I feel like that will happen for them, too. But, yeah I’ve got four brothers, two older and two younger.
PI: Did you play any other sports growing up?
MJ: I think my 7th grade year I played one year of football and that was it for me. It was a little local team where I’m from, we didn’t play a lot of games. It was just something fun to do. My dad was like, “you should try it, it will help you on the basketball court” so I was like “O.K., I’ll give it a try.” I did one year and that was it for me, I couldn’t do it anymore.
PI: Why did you stop?
MJ: I just didn’t like playing football. I mean for me it’s [football] weird. Now recently I’ve been getting into football more, but back then I just didn’t get it. There was a lot going on. I always enjoyed basketball. I like dunking on people, making moves, and going to the basket rather than just going out and hitting people. I never like going out and hitting people, it’s boring to me.
PI: That’s surprising, you’re a pretty physical player.
MJ: I think I got that when I was younger in my 7th grade year I was playing 17U so I was always playing older guys. Even when my dad and I would go play pickup, I was always a little boy playing against grown men so I kind of got that toughness from them. From my 7th grade year on I always played 17U so I’ve got the kid side and the grown-man toughness side, too.
PI: Describe your game — what are your greatest strengths on the court?
MJ: I feel like since I’m a big guy I can play all five positions if it comes to that. I don’t like banging in the post because I’m a shooting guard. I would say where I mostly feel comfortable is at the 1-through-3, but if I’ve got a smaller guy on me I won’t even hesitate to take him in the paint and just kill him. I won’t hesitate. On defense I can definitely guard every position, that’s my strongest point on defense, my versatility. I can get to the basket easy, can fight through contact, I’m an and-one player. I’m like a slasher. I can pass, shoot, create my own shot, make plays for my teammates, I can push it — I can do it all, really. That’s just how I look at my game. Because of my size I get the best of both worlds really, instead of just playing a guard. I look like a big man, but because of my guard skills I’ve got the best of both worlds, really.
PI: How about areas for improvement?
MJ: I would say definitely becoming a better PG and making the right decisions. Picking the right shots to take. I would say creating my own shot, but I feel like I kind of do that well. So I would say my IQ, my PG IQ as a guard. Seeing the whole floor, breaking down my defender as I’m dribbling, like seeing how he’s guarding me and ways I can beat him. So basically I would say just mental — just focusing more on my mental, watching a lot of guys, a lot of combo guards, how they operate and break down their defender. Yeah that’s what I would say.
PI: What are some underrated aspects of your game?
MJ: Because I’m a big guy, a lot of guys look at me as a post player, but when I get out on the court I can cross you up and pull-up for a jump shot. A lot of people don’t really key in on my perimeter game — they just focus on how big I am, how easily I move through traffic, move people out of the way and score — but they don’t really key in on the moves I do. Like I may just crossover and float it. So like I said before I can really do it all, but people mainly focus on how easy I get to the basket because of my size and they don’t really look at certain moves I would do. I don’t have to necessarily score after I do a certain move, but like if I come off a screen and I just stop and cross up my defender. They [people] don’t really key in on my guard skills, so I would say that’s something that’s very underrated.
PI: Who’s the toughest player you’ve ever had to guard?
MJ: Besides my brothers, well I will say back when I was younger and would play against the older guys, they would kill me obviously because I’m a 7th grader playing against grown men. Besides that I would probably say my dad or my brother because they study the game so I couldn’t really [do much]. But on top of that, they taught me their moves. So they were teaching me their moves and would do them against me and I still couldn't do nothing against that. I would definitely say my dad and my brother because they always had something new that they would bring out of the bag. My dad’s favorite move is he would post you up on the baseline and spin off you and just reverse it. You can’t stop it, know what I’m saying, like you just can’t stop it. Or like he would go to the goal for a layup and would layup on the other side. You just can’t stop it. Plus he’s big too, there ain’t too much you can do about it. They always had something out the bag and I couldn’t really do nothing with them [laughs].
PI: Are you beating them now?
MJ: Oh yeah it’s easy, it’s so easy now, I ain’t lying [laughs]. The crazy thing is I just started beating him [my dad], but he used to beat me when I was younger so now I look at it and I’m like “you ain’t beating me now.” I kill him now. Plus I can shoot it, dribble it, with my body type he can’t guard me, he’s old [laughs]. He’s getting too old now so it’s easy wins for me.
PI: Rank the top-five wings nationally in the class of 2022.
MJ: This ain’t in order, but these are some players that I’ve definitely played against that have lived up to the hype. Emoni Bates, Jarace Walker, I’ve played against him a few times...including me, definitely me, Emoni Bates, Jarace Walker, Chris Livingston, and I would say my man J. Reed. My teammate Jalen Reed. He’s tough, I ain’t lying, he’s tough. I don’t really care too much about hype or a name, but definitely someone who stands out to me is him. He’s 6’8”, he’s strong, can shoot, get to the goal, can do everything, so definitely him. That’s my five.
PI: Why do you wear #0? Is there a story behind it?
MJ: Nah, I would just say I would be like a Jayson Tatum or a [Russell] Westbrook growing up. They’re great players. Before at my old school, my number was #2 and I was like “ah I don’t really want #2, so let’s try something different” so I chose #0. Then I looked up the people who wore #0, Jayson Tatum and Russell Westbrook, so I was like “yeah I’ll wear #0.”
PI: Do you feel like you have shades of them in your game?
MJ: Definitely. Definitely [Russell] Westbrook on how he goes to the hole and attacks big men. I would definitely say [Jayson] Tatum because he can create his own shot with his handles, he’s smooth. Yeah I’m a big player, but my handles are smooth. The moves I do are smooth, so I would say [Jayson] Tatum. Plus his jump shot is smooth, I have a smooth jump shot.
PI: Have you thought about reclassifying to 2021? Did you reclassify in the past?
MJ: I don’t know the full story behind it, I think it had to do with something when I was younger….I’m not sure. I’m definitely not thinking about re-classifying up, I’ll just stay in 2022. How I look at it is everything happens for a reason and personally it couldn’t have gotten better than this. I’m in the best possible situation in my opinion so I don’t even want to think about re-classifying to 2021, I’m good where I’m at and I can just keep progressing.
PI: What went into the decision to transfer from Durham Academy to Oak Hill?
MJ: Better opportunities. Oak Hill is one of the best schools in the world. It’s legendary, as you can see all the legends on the wall [referring to backdrop]. The gym is legendary. It’s family up here and we’re in the mountains so there are no distractions. You come here, it’s business. You come here to get better as a player, get your academics, and then go on about your future. I feel like the road I’m heading down is Oak Hill. Oak Hill is going to set me up for exactly what I want and even more. Even more achievements, it’s going to boost me as a player, it’s going to turn me into a great young man, very disciplined. So definitely [it’s] a better opportunity. But then to play against the greatest competition. I feel like you get the attributes or the name of being a top player in your class then you got to play against some of the top people. You’ve got to prove why, you can’t just let people say, “he’s top” nah. I definitely want to be known as one of the top players, but also play against the top people and show you why I’m a top player, but that’s just me. That’s really it, nothing bad, nothing negative of why I left DA [Durham Academy]. It’s all positive, but like I said, it’s business. In life you’ve got to make decisions that are best for you and decide what roads you want to go down. It wasn’t easy making that decision, definitely the one thing I was concerned about was my family back home. I’m up here in the mountains and they’re in North Carolina. I’ll miss them, my friends and all of that, but like I said, I have a goal and I’ll do anything to reach it so Oak Hill is where I felt I’d get everything I needed.
PI: What have you taken from your experience with them, so far? How have you grown?
MJ: I feel like Oak Hill really turned me into my position as a guard because at DA [Durham Academy] I was the biggest on the court so I wasn’t really in my position. Basically I had to do what it took to win, I had to play a point guard through center on offense and defense. It was hard, I felt like there was a lot more weight on my back, but now I’m playing with the best people in high school, some of the top names in high school, great players. They’re down here for the same reasons I’m down here. As a team we’re there, as a family we’re there, off the court we’re there. It’s been good, but I definitely feel like Oak Hill has taught me my position as a guard and it’s showing. It’s showing in how I bring the ball up the floor and like I said, space for how I can create my move and learn my position.
PI: What has the adjustment been like?
MJ: Personally it wasn’t really hard because I knew what I was coming down here for, so it wasn’t really a hard transition. I mean, there’s nothing that I’m missing out on back home honestly. There’s nothing that I’m missing out on besides trouble, besides not getting better at my craft, and really solidifying who I want to be in the future with my life. I mean there wasn’t really nothing I was missing. Over the break, I got to go home and see my brothers, my friends, and my family for a good amount of time, like two months. I was home for two months and got to see them a lot, so really I didn’t miss nothing. I came to Oak Hill to do a job, so it wasn’t really a hard transition.
PI: What advice would you share with other top players who are thinking about transferring to a top school like Oak Hill?
MJ: Don’t hesitate. Don’t hesitate. When I first thought about it I came down here and took a visit. I told my dad, “I’m scared, but I feel like it’s going to play out how I want it. I feel like everything is going to be ok.” I saw the gym, I saw all of this, I saw the dorms, I saw how we live, I saw how we connect as brothers….how we roll, how we play. I thought it can’t get no better than this. Being back home I would be missing out on something like this honestly. I’ve got the freedom to do whatever I want at home, but I like to be disciplined. And going to a school like this, anybody who wants to go to the league or has dreams of any of that sort, this is what you need — a school like this. A school that is going to be on your back every single day, but at the same time you’re definitely getting what you need out of it. So don’t hesitate. Family, friends, they’re going to be there for you, they’re going to support you. Like my family, they call me every other day. That’s really all I need to keep me going, just to hear their voice, check in on my brothers back home, but at the end of the day you’ve got to separate yourself. This is something my dad always said to me, “work hard now and enjoy life later rather than enjoy life now and have to grind later.” So that’s what I’d leave them with, either work now and enjoy later or enjoy now and grind later.
PI: Talk about your experience with USA Basketball.
MJ: It’s fun, but once again everything is business. You’re going to go down there and play in front of college coaches, it’s one of the biggest platforms you could possibly play on. USA Basketball is big, to even get an invite there is huge. It should definitely humble you, to show that you’re getting this stuff, but you definitely have to stay on your pivot and you can’t get a big head. I feel like that is what USA Basketball has taught me, like “hey, MJ — you are one of the top players, one of the hottest names right now, but at the end of the day there are always people trying to get your spot. Be thankful and be humble, but when you come here give it your all.” That’s something USA Basketball has taught me. It’s fun, traveling with players, and being with the other top players in the world, really. Just interacting with them, playing with them, playing against them, it’s fun. It honestly can’t get any better than that, and it definitely shows you where your game is at so when you go home you know the stuff you need to work on. It’s a big tournament really, there’s nothing to bring you down, but when you get there you got to work, you got to go hard, take it serious because it’s business. When you leave you should feel guided about yourself, when you go home you should work on some stuff that you didn’t do as well….some areas that you need to grow in.
PI: Would you say you were “big-headed” or prideful prior to USA Basketball?
MJ: I’m not going to say I was super big-headed, but I don’t know anybody who has gotten attributes and hasn’t gotten excited with themselves, like “hey I got this or I got that.” I wasn’t super full of myself, but I was definitely like, “hey, I got invited to USA.” But over the years I was like “let’s be humble with it.” Like I tell some of my younger teammates now, freshman and stuff, when they’re going through high school and getting stuff like this, like “yo, you are not the only one who has gotten an invite. Yeah you’re excited now, but just be humble with it.” Be humble and go through the process. Then at the end when you reach that level that you want to get to, then it’s like “hey ok, you know that’s when you can be chill about it, get comfortable and have all the fun.” But right now you can have a little fun, but you can’t get knocked off your pivot, you gotta keep going. It’s an invite, cool. You gotta focus on the next invite. You gotta worry about, “hey, am I going to get invited back?” So when you go there yeah you enjoy it, but always remember it’s business. It’s always going to be business. I feel like for me I’ve disciplined myself because from a young age I was getting D-1 offers. Like in 7th grade I was getting D-1 offers, so I feel like that time frame really humbled me. Yeah I was excited, but that really set the tone for me like “hey, I can do this.” It wasn’t really like, “yo, I got these so I can slack off,” it was more of “yo, I’m getting D-1s!” It was encouraging me to do better and to keep going. At a young age I was getting all those D-1 offers, scouts were looking at me, colleges were looking at me so that really humbled me at a young age. Dealing with colleges, the NBA, and all that stuff.
PI: Who did you room with at USA? Who was your favorite teammate?
MJ: I always roomed with Jalen Hood-Schifino and Jaden Bradley, North Carolina guys. We were always in one room. They’re like my brothers, family. We go to different schools, but like I said it’s business. We want to take each other's heads off, see who has the better team, but outside of that those are good guys. I’ve known them since we were kids and we’ve always had a great connection. Cool guys, I’m proud of them. They’re at Montverde and IMG doing what they love to do. Guys from Carolina we really give inspiration to guys back home, especially younger guys that want to do the same thing that we’re doing. We’re really setting the tone for guys back home so it doesn’t get better than that.
PI: What’s the basketball culture like in Durham, North Carolina?
MJ: Everybody is trying to get it. I see a lot of guys in college who played D-2 or D-3, but they’re out there working. Everybody is always working, everybody is always eating. In runs everybody is trying to bust each other up so you can’t really get unfocused, you can’t really get off your pivot because if you do you’re going to get busted up. Everybody is trying to get better honestly, everybody is trying to make each other better and that’s what I grew up in. The older guys that would do me up, at the same time they were like “hey, this is what it’s going to be like.” If you want to make it to the league you’ve got to learn how to play with guys that are better than you and you got to learn how to beat them. So when I was younger that was the outlook, now that I’m older I beat up on guys back home and I’m like “yo, I was in your shoes. Yeah it’s not easy, but if you want to get to where you want to go you’ve got to play against guys that are older than you, bigger than you, stronger than you, smarter than you, faster than you, and you’ve got to adapt to it. That’s going to be your lifestyle.” So that’s really what it is, everybody encouraging each other, but also everybody teaching everybody. Everybody is teaching the young players how it’s going to be like. Like family, that’s really what it is, family.
PI: What’s the current update with your recruitment?
MJ: Recruiters that have been on me are NC State, Pitt, Louisville, Wake Forest, Providence and a few more. I don’t really keep up with all my offers, but those are the people that have really been contacting me and showing interest. Same people you know, same schools.
PI: You’ve recently picked up some interest from Duke, right?
MJ: Yep, well I used to go to their games when they’d play NC State. I used to go watch some of their games, see how they operate. Nolan Smith, Coach Scheyer, those are the people from Duke that I have a relationship with and have been growing a relationship with. NC State, they’ve always been with me since 7th or 8th grade, they’ve always been with me so they’re at the top of the food chain, the top of my list right now because of their loyalty and how much interest they’ve shown in me. Just based off how they brought me in as one of their own, like I was already on the team type of love. I really do appreciate all the schools looking out for me, all the schools are great programs in my eyes — all of them.
PI: What’s been the most unique recruiting pitch you’ve heard so far?
MJ: Every school is going to try and do everything within their power to get me so I would say they tell me everything their program is about, what to expect, they tell me how they’re going to be better than the next school, everything I would gain from them, and you know, all the positive. They tell me I’m going to have to work hard, basically being an athlete, but they always tell me that we’re going to be a family. You need people in your corner that you can trust, that’s something I’ve always been big on. Every school has said that and all of them have caught my eye honestly because they’re all on the same stuff, that’s what they’re about. So you know, all of them.
PI: What are you ultimately looking for in a program?
MJ: Who has been there with me since the jump, who has been there with me on the rise not just when I got that name and when everybody knows who I am. Who has been with me when I was gaining that name, before the name. Who was like, “hey that kid’s got a lot of potential, who is that?” Not when like “oh MJ Rice this or that,” but “who’s that kid right there? He’s nice, he’s got a lot of potential.” I’m going to always go off who has been there with me from the beginning and how loyal they’ve been with more or how much they keep in contact with me. There are a few schools now that check up on me every day, they’ll tell me when they play and everything they got going on, but then they’ll always check on me as well. So you know, like I said, basically they treat me like one of their players. They treat me like family, they keep in touch with me like I’m family. That’s always what I’m going to fall back on when it’s time to choose a school.
PI: Would you consider taking the G-League Ignite route or going overseas?
MJ: When it’s time for that option that’s when I’ll think about it, but right now I haven’t even thought about it honestly because everything is going how it expected [to go], everything is falling in line. Everything is good so I haven’t really thought about anything extra.
PI: What type of system best fits your playing style?
MJ: I like to push the ball, so a team that likes to run, but also plays defense. Like Oak Hill now, we lock up on defense, but our game is playing fast. I feel like I’m not best in half court sets, I’m best on the move. I’ve always got to keep moving, so me creating, scoring on fast breaks, pushing the ball, that’s where I’m best at. So any school that plays like that is where I would best fit in at.
PI: What are some things you bring to a team off the court?
MJ: Off the court, honestly I’m like the leader so everybody looks up to me, everybody wants to hang around me. Everybody always wants to hear what I have to say, hear what I’m thinking, they like to gain knowledge from me. They expect me to lead them, to put the weight on my back as always, so that’s what I do. I always make sure everything is straight. I’m the first one the coaches go to, when stuff isn’t looking right I’m always who they go to, who they communicate with, then I’m the one who communicates and makes sure everything is in order. Besides that I bring a lot of energy, I build relationships with everybody personally and I never leave anyone out. So we're always having fun, I’m always checking on you and seeing how you’re doing, but most importantly we’re definitely going to have fun. We’re going to be a family, we’re brothers. That’s what I definitely bring to any type of program. Yeah I’m a star, but also I’m your brother, don’t look at me as like superior, don’t look at me as...I don’t want to say don’t look at me as a leader because I am a leader, but don’t look at me as, “oh you gotta do as I say.” No, I’m not controlling. Yeah I’m a leader so everything has to be right, but at the same time I’m your brother. I’m a kid just like you so we’re going to have fun, we’re going to connect on that level.
PI: How do you see your role playing out at the next level?
MJ: I’m a leader now so I’ll always be a leader, I’ll always be a person people look up to. I feel like at the next level I’m going to be playing with vets, with others who have been there, other vets, but at the same time I’m going to be that young bull that everybody looks up to like, “hey, that’s our guy...that’s who we gotta key in on.” So nothing changes, I’ll still be a leader, be that fun guy, but I’m going to gain knowledge and be someone people go to for knowledge and how I think just based off where I come from, my past, and my story. I feel like people will definitely want to hear that and how I got to be the person I am. I feel like people are always going to come to me for knowledge and key in on me.
PI: Does your mental intensity come naturally or did you grow into over time?
MJ: Like I said, there was a time where I wasn’t taking basketball as serious at one point. It wasn’t really a lot of mental things, I was just being a kid, but when I got into this basketball thing that’s when everything started to play its role. That’s when the long nights, downfalls, the crying, the bad mental, that’s when all of that started to play its part. Every game wasn’t going to be perfect, but as the person I am I’m always like “yo I gotta play this way or gotta do this.” I always push myself to the next level of how things are supposed to be especially for myself. So I definitely feel like that’s something I grew into, but it’s a part of me. Now when I don’t play good I always reflect on things that I could have done better. I always fall on myself before the coaches do or anybody else does, I always fall on myself first. That’s what it takes to be the leader, to understand yourself, because you only know yourself better than anybody else, you know who you are, you know what levels you can reach, you know what you want out of life so no one can push you more than yourself. That’s how I always look at things.