Basketball is life for Jordan Rice and the Rock Island High School senior made his next chapter official in a signing day ceremony Wednesday afternoon at the Rock Island Fieldhouse.
Rice, a two-time All-Western Big 6 Conference point guard and standout soccer player, signed his national letter of intent to continue his hoops career at Division II University of Illinois-Springfield.
Officially signing to play for the Prairie Stars and head coach Matt Brock was a major relief for Rice, especially considering the uncertainty of if, or when, his senior season will take place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was surrounded by his family, including parents Paulette and Keith Rice, along with basketball coach Thom Sigel and soccer coach Rudy Almanza on Wednesday. The ceremony was also streamed online.
“Not many in my family, if any, have had the opportunity to have a full-ride scholarship, so that definitely means a lot to my family,” said Rice, who plans to major in business and sports management or sports training. “Hard work has definitely paid off and I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Rice said he also had opportunities to play soccer, but ultimately decided basketball would be his path. The 5-foot-10 Rice averaged 12.7 points and 5.2 assists a game as a junior, when he was named third team all-state in 3A by the IBCA.
UIS wanted his commitment by a certain date, and Rice was already on board.
“They wanted a decision out of me, and I already had my decision. It was perfect timing. With the way things are going nowadays, you never know what might happen next,” Rice said. “I’m glad I got it out of the way and committed early. It’s where I wanted to go, it’s where I fit best. My parents are happy with the decision as well. It was good.”
Sigel, who first saw Rice play in third grade and coached him starting in sixth-grade AAU basketball, said he’s almost as close to him as a player as his own son, Colton, Rice’s teammate who was also in attendance.
“Probably other than (Colton), he’s probably gotten yelled at by me more than anybody else since sixth grade, coaching him,” Sigel joked. “We’ve developed a close relationship over the years, I’m real proud of what he’s accomplished in basketball and in soccer. I think his future is very bright.”
Sigel figured the pandemic has affected Rice’s recruitment, but he believes the school is a great fit.
He said three UIS coaches came to Rocky’s first available open gym and weight session. Sigel noted the competition is solid at the DII school, which finished 14-14 and 7-13 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
“It seemed like a great staff and a program on the rise,” Sigel said. “The GLVC is one of the top Division II leagues in the country. There is Division I transfers and talent scattered throughout that league and I think Jordan is in that mix and he’s going to go there and be an impact player.”
Sigel’s program has produced multiple talented guards at the next level over the years, like former point guard Chasson Randle, who has played professionally in the NBA and overseas.
“He’s following in the footsteps of a former small, quick, big-hearted competitor point guard we had go onto the next level and do great things. I know Jordan is going to be the same way. He’s fearless, very skilled, he’s a gym rat. I know how much work he’s put in over the years. I’m just really proud to see everything he’s accomplished.”
Rice is hopeful he will have a senior season, but understands health is the ultimate priority. He’s been able to play in tournaments at the TBK Bank Sports Complex in Bettendorf with organized team activity on hold in Illinois.
The only thing certain for Rice is his continued pursuit of becoming a professional basketball player.
He said he’s willing to do anything when it comes to hard work in order to make basketball his future livelihood.
“For basketball, honestly, these are my words, I will put my life on the line. Basketball is my life. That’s what I want to do. If I can’t do that, I’m going to keep trying. … My second option is basketball, still. Basketball means a lot to me. I have to have it.”
McKinley to dive at Bryant University: Ella McKinley believes her best diving is ahead of her. The Rocky senior signed her national letter of intent to compete at DI Bryant University, a private college in Smithfield, R.I., that competes in the Northeast Conference.
The cheerleader, former gymnast, and this year’s Western Big 6 Conference diving runner-up will also balance her diving while majoring in biology.
McKinley also plans to double-minor in team and project management and biotechnology with a goal to attend medical school and eventually become an orthopedic surgeon.
School comes first as a student-athlete at Bryant, and McKinley said she is determined to be successful.
“When I came across Bryant, it was the perfect mix of a strong academic foundation with athletics,” she said.
A two-year relationship with the school culminated with her signing Wednesday.
Her future diving coach, Christopher Law, is a first-year coach for the Bulldogs. He qualified for the NCAA Championships three times at Ohio State and was fourth in the prelims of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials at 15 years old.
McKinley said her background in cheerleading and gymnastics was crucial to her ability as a diver. She also balanced cheer practice and performing with her diving in the fall months.
“I don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for gymnastics,” said McKinley, who started gymnastics as a toddler before stepping away last year due to a multitude of injuries and knee surgery. “It (diving) was something that came naturally because of gymnastics.”
McKinley's coaches, Andy Parer and Dave Busch, and family surrounded her at the signing, including her parents, Jennifer Pendleton and Kevin McKinley.
She thanked those in attendance, including her coaches at the Quad Cities Gymnastics Academy and Rocky cheerleading coach Betsy Larson. She also thanked her three-year diving teammate Valerie Holland for helping her believe in herself.
McKinley was grateful she could even have a senior season in a year with uncertainty or canceled seasons in other sports. She believes the best is yet to come as she prepares for college.
“I’ve definitely continued improving, but I still have so many more goals that I want to reach. So hopefully I will be able to do that the next four years.”
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