‘Bria Rice 1.0’ at point guard was much like other start-up products — full of promise, but wired with a few bugs.
When a young but talented trio of ninth graders — Rice, Nia Alexander and Quinessa Caylao-Do — became the fresh faces of the Todd Beamer High School girls basketball program a couple years ago, high expectations of deep postseason runs almost became immediate. They were that brash — and that good.
Rice ran the show, which often meant calling her own number. She liked scoring.
But at the end of her ninth-grade season, her confidence wavered and her body began betraying her. She ended the season limping around with a severe ankle injury as the Titans lost in the Class 4A regional round of the state tournament to Arlington High School.
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And last season, much of the same thing happened — except she never made it to the regional round. She was lost for the season with a broken collarbone, suffered in the West Central District semifinals against Bellarmine Prep.
Somewhere along the line, the Titans were upgraded to ‘Bria Rice 2.0’ — a much more complete, mature version of the old guard.
Oh, how that has shown up in a big way this season for the second-ranked Titans, who not only won the 4A South Puget Sound League title, but tripped up Bellarmine Prep for the district crown — and finally advanced past regionals to reach the 4A quarterfinals.
Rice, who contributes much more than her statistics indicate — 10.2 points, 7.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game — was not only voted the SPSL Northwest Most Valuable Player, she is The News Tribune’s 2014-15 All-Area girls basketball player of the year.
“I have done pretty well this year,” the 5-foot-9 Rice said. “Last year, I had some ups and downs when I thought the best thing to do was get points.
“As I get older, the points don’t really matter. What matters is how you contribute to the team, and I did much better getting my team involved and making sure everybody else was happy.”
Growing up, she idolized a pair of guards. One was Jamie Redd, the University of Washington’s all-time leading scorer who played three seasons in the WNBA and two more years playing professionally in Greece and Israel.
Rice started attending the Jamie Redd Hoopz Academy as an eighth grader. That is when Redd began training her.
“Smart, talented and she works hard,” Redd said. “She’s had to overcome a lot of adversity with injures, but she has started to blossom.”
The other player isn’t much older than Rice. It is Kansas-bound Jayde Christopher, her cousin who also happens to be the star point guard at Seattle’s Cleveland High School.
Redd now is the first-year coach at Cleveland.
“You know, Jayde is probably the better ballhandler, but Bria is the more aggressive scorer,” Redd said. “Both are also tremendous defenders. They play both ends of the floor, and in this generation that is hard to find.”
Crashing into Bellarmine Prep guard Jayana Ervin near midcourt in that district semifinal game last season might have been the best thing to happen for Rice.
The next game, Rice sat right next to Beamer coach Corey Alexander as the Titans were demolished by eventual 4A runner-up Mount Rainier in the WCD title game.
And the next week, as the Titans struggled to score in a 35-33 regional-round loss to Arlington — again — Rice began to pick up on a few things.
“The lessons I learned — without all parts of a team working, it is unable to function correctly,” Rice said. “Without me, the pace of the game was not clicking.”
Rice was out of basketball for two months with the collarbone injury, then joined her cousin’s AAU team — Tree of Hope. She admitted she struggled adjusting to new players, but by the end of the summer, she was playing as well as anybody.
“She dribbles so well, and gets in between those gaps,” Christopher said. “She has gotten way better. She has gotten way more aggressive. Last year, I saw how passive she could be.”
This season, Rice is playing fast, smart and unselfishly. And it doesn’t really matter if the team plays a controlled tempo, or attacks in a breakneck manner — Rice sees everything unfolding so slowly.
“I just think, ‘What are my teammates’ best abilities?’ I analyze it and know what their strengths are, and see what their potential is to make a great play,” Rice said.
“With Nia, if I see her in the middle, I know to get her the ball so she can hit that shot in the lane. Or with ‘Q,’ if she breaks to the corner, I know she will make that 3-pointer. Or with Makenna (Woodfolk), if she puts her hand up in the post, I know she will go to the bucket strong.
“Honestly, it does not take me that long to process all of that on the run. I see the court. I see the open spots.”
Rice also is arguably the most disruptive defender in the area, Bellarmine Prep coach Kevin Meines said.
“You can have the best-laid plans on how to attack them, but in the end it might not matter,” Meines said. “You just cannot simulate in practice the type of pressure she brings — and we play against the boys.”
This Rice is no longer the wide-eyed newcomer to high school basketball. She is the calm, settled leader the Titans rely on most.
“She looks at the game from a coach’s point of view,” Alexander said. “And this year, she is playing more under control. I mean, she can go off for 25 points, but she knows she doesn’t have to. She is only 16 years old, with that kind of maturity.”