As the 2020-21 college basketball season gets closer to tipping off, one name WAC fans should get to know is Jabari Rice. The New Mexico State junior guard returns after earning first team All-WAC honors in 2019-20.
Rice had a breakout sophomore season averaging 12.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game for the Aggies. In fact, Rice led the Aggies in total points (384), free throws made (86), and free throw percentage (.827). And the Houston native was second on the team in scoring, total minutes, minutes per game and three-pointers made.
Rice started 19 of the Aggies’ 31 games and earned WAC Player of the Week honors on January 13, 2020. That award came after Rice led New Mexico State to a pair of wins over Chicago State and Kansas City. Rice had 14 points and three rebounds against the Cougars and recorded a double-double against Kansas City with 13 points and 10 rebounds to go along with six assists.
Jans Excited About the Competitiveness
Threes. Mid-range game. Dunks. Rebounds. Rejections. The question at this point is, what can't @_jabariii do?
Excited to see more of this from the junior in 2020-21! #AggieUp | ? pic.twitter.com/lHDRZXXKlS
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) September 25, 2020
Leading up to the 2020-21 season, head coach Chris Jans is even more excited about his junior guard.
“I was right for once,” Jans said in a recent episode of the WAC Hoops Digest podcast. “It doesn’t happen very often but I’m gonna remind people that I predicted that outbreak. Just more consistency. Obviously he’s got to stay injury-free. But I just want him to be more consistent and just build off what he did last year.”
Since Rice arrived in Las Cruces, Jans knew he had a promising career in front of him.
“He just has great energy,” Jans said. “He’s always one of, if not the, hardest playing guy on the court. And for me, what I think influences winning, that’s a pretty good start. His competitive nature is off the charts. He’s in the elite level of competitors that I’ve ever coached.”
During his sophomore season, Rice appeared in 31 of 34 games off the bench, starting five. Rice had a season-high 10 points against Drake on Dec. 22, 2018 and tied that season-high against Chicago State on Feb. 2, 2019.
Rice hit one of the biggest shots of his career in a win over Utah Valley on Feb. 15, 2020. With the Aggies trailing 82-81 after a pair of TJ Washington free throws gave the Wolverines the lead, Rice decided to call game.
Win streak rewind | ? • 2.15.20 | Aggies 84, Utah Valley 82
Down one. Five seconds left. Win streak in jeopardy.
We'll let @_jabariii show you and @youngpbp tell you what happened. #AggieUp
? | https://t.co/SaSw5VERWb pic.twitter.com/MKkDgJVtzR
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) April 8, 2020
Here is Jabari Rice talking with New Mexico State play by play analyst Adam Young about the 2020-21 season.
4️⃣4️⃣ days … ? @_jabariii is one of the favorites for @WACsports POTY in 20-21.
Rice had a breakout 19-20 season to help lead @NMStateMBB!#AggieUp pic.twitter.com/KteoyULG33
— Adam Young (@youngpbp) October 12, 2020
Rice has a big time supporting cast in 2020-21. Johnny McCants returns and is a dark horse for WAC Player of the Year honors. Evan Gilyard returns and the Aggies are 19-0 since Gilyard stepped on the floor in December, 2019. Clayton Henry returns after sitting out the 2019-20 season due to injury. UNLV and Utah transfer Donnie Tillman is set to have a big season for the Aggies.
So, there will be no creeping up on anyone in 2020-21. Jabari Rice is a top candidate for WAC Player of the Year and his role is only going to increase now that Trevelin Queen and Terrell Brown are no longer in Las Cruces.