High School Sports

Clover Park’s Zykera Rice is Gonzaga bound

Clover Park High School’s Zykera Rice knows she will be a bundle of nerves walking to the fax machine Wednesday morning.

Her life will instantly change: She is sending in a national letter of intent in the 2014-15 early signing period to play NCAA Division I basketball for West Coast Conference powerhouse Gonzaga University.

Maybe it would help soothe her shaking hands if Clover Park athletic director Jenee James, or Warriors’ girls basketball coach Jordan Pritchard carefully place the fax machine on top of one of the basketball rims in the home gymnasium.

Rice, a 6-foot-1 forward, not only can touch the rim — she can dunk a basketball.

“Kind of like a kid kangaroo,” Rice said.

If you are scratching your head and wondering who Rice is — you are not alone. She has been buried beneath the rubble of lost high school seasons. The Warriors have won a combined eight games the past two seasons in the 2A South Puget Sound League.

But her freaky, hop-along athleticism was too good for the Zags to ignore.

It was a year ago when Rice attended a junior day at Eastern Washington University. She swung by Gonzaga to meet former assistant caoch Jodie Kaczor Berry and talk about the program.

Over the past 12 months, Rice began receiving scholarship offers from Cal State-Bakersfield, Fresno State, San Diego State, Santa Clara and Eastern Washington. Still, Gonzaga — which had hired a new coach in Lisa Fortier and was still putting together its recruiting class — remained in Rice’s top five.

Rice made an official visit to Gonzaga from Sept. 19-21, and those kangaroo-hopping skills came in handy.

She played in six open-gym pickup games against some of the current Gonzaga players.

“I know they spoke really highly about me,” Rice said.

But it wasn’t until she had a “jump off” against all-WCC forward Sunny Greinacher, the tallest player on the squad at 6-4, that she opened up eyes.

Who won?

“She grabbed the rim,” Rice said. “I did, too, but in less steps.”

A few hours later, Rice was offered a scholarship. Before she accepted and gave the Zags an oral commitment, she and her mother, Jacqueline, went shopping to stockpile their closets with Gonzaga basketball gear. She also called Pritchard; then her father, Curtis; her sister, Basharia; and her two brothers, AJ Middleton and Curtis Rice, Jr. to tell them the news.

“She said, ‘I think I am going to Gonzaga,’ ” Pritchard said. “She also said something similar with Fresno (State). But with Gonzaga, she told me, ‘This place will challenge me.’ ... She felt it would be huge for her for more than just basketball.”

Rice is enrolled in Running Start at Pierce College in Lakewood. By the time she graduates next spring, she will have her associate degree or two years of college credit.

She plans on seeking a major in Spanish — to either move to Barcelona to pursue a professional basketball career overseas, or to work for the Central Intelligence Agency if basketball does not pan out.

“Always have to have a backup plan,” Rice said.