Marquis Teague, Trae Golden and Dee Bost are among the SEC’s best point guards. Sophomore walk-on point guard T.J. Rice imitates them every day in practice.
As a walk-on, Rice’s main responsibility for Auburn is being a member of the scout team, playing point guard and preparing the starters for what they will encounter their next game.
Rice relishes the opportunity to emulate other point guards and uses the time spent watching film to his advantage.
“I enjoy it,” Rice said. “It’s almost a good thing playing on scout the first couple years because you learn about other players and their tendencies. And when it’s my time, I’ll go out there and will know what to expect.”
Born in Chicago, Rice moved to Georgia in August 2000 because of his father’s job change. He had never played basketball before the move, but began as soon as he got to the South.
His decision to walk on at Auburn was fueled by childhood dreams.
“I always had that dream as a kid to make it big,” he said. “I always had confidence in myself that I could do it, but I knew once I got here that I was going to work hard and accomplish that goal.”
Rice might not get the publicity his other teammates receive, but that doesn’t mean he puts in any less time in the gym.
Rice wakes up at 5:45 a.m. for an early morning weights session at 6:30 a.m. He takes anywhere from 12–15 credit hours each semester for his wireless engineering major, attending class from 8:00 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. After a quick lunch, Rice heads to practice from 2–5 p.m.
Rice stays balanced by adhering to a motto his parents instilled in him at a young age.
“What my parents say: ‘School always come first,’” he said. “It comes before basketball. It’s great to play and do something you love, but you always need to look at the long term and what’s going to pay out in the long run. So that’s what always keeps me motivated—that if I work hard on and off the court I’ll always have different opportunities to look forward to.”
A constant motivating tool for Rice is directly ahead of him on the depth chart.
Junior point guard and fellow walk-on Josh Wallace was named Playmaker of the Year and won the Outstanding Defensive Player award for his play last season after starting a school-record 26 games as a walk-on.
Rice can look to Wallace for inspiration from a fellow diminutive walk-on point guard who’s balancing engineering and basketball.
“It definitely does (motivate me),” Rice said. “It’s somebody that’s right in front of me that’s going through the same thing I’m going through. It is definitely a motivating factor.”
Junior guard Noel Johnson said Rice is a big part of what Auburn does behind the scenes in preparation for opposing point guards.
“T.J. is a big part of this team because day after day with the rough practices, he helps us out with the point guards,” Johnson said.
Fellow walk-on Dylan Spencer, junior guard, said Rice knows his niche on the team.
“As a walk-on, you have to define your role, and T.J. has done a really good job at that,” Spencer said.
Rice carries a blue-collar approach with him each day, and he hopes to be rewarded for his hard work and be on the court with the players he now imitates in practice.
“I come to work every day just hoping for my chance.”