LEXINGTON, Ky. – The 2015-16 season had to be frustrating for Alyssa Rice, who missed a chunk of preseason practice and the first seven games of the season with a stress reaction in her foot. Now seven practices into her junior season, Rice (pictured) and head coach Matthew Mitchell are not looking back, but ahead.
Every summer, the Kentucky women’s basketball team joins other female sports teams on campus for summer conditioning and Rice took advantage of that time to get stronger and bring her conditioning level to an all-time high. That work, according to Mitchell, has Rice not only in a position to have a great season, but also has built her confidence.
“Her body is in great shape and the big, big thing right now is that I think her confidence is at a very high level and she is making plays already in practice that she was having some trouble with at the end of last season,” Mitchell said. “I think a lot of that is just her confidence is a lot greater and she has done a good job of getting herself in a positon where she can make plays. Confidence comes only through achievement and it cannot be false, you cannot manufacture that.”
Last season, Rice played in 26 of UK's 33 games, averaging 9.5 minutes per game. The 6-foot-3 post had her two best games in the SEC tournament, scoring nine points with five rebounds against LSU before eight points and nine rebounds against highly ranked Florida. Rice hopes the hard work she has put into being a more versatile player will help those numbers improve and be more consistent this season.
“I have been really working on expanding my range with my mid-range shot and trying to get that down just to make me a more versatile player so I can work inside and outside,” Rice said. “We have just really been working hard as a total group just getting in a lot of shots and practicing repetition. Getting those reps has really been helpful and we are just working hard each and every day.”
A common theme for the team early this season has been the vocal leadership of what Mitchell calls the “core six” players that returned from last year’s squad. Rice sees that leadership as a responsibility for the returners.
“The people that are returners have been doing a great job of taking on the leadership role and I feel that since I am a junior now and been around the system for a while, I have a good idea of what Coach Mitchell wants,” Rice said. “I see it as a responsibility of the veterans to not have Coach Mitchell say everything and be able to step in when we can and coach our other teammates.”
That “attitude of leadership” is another reason Mitchell is expecting big things in 2016-17 from the Reynoldsburg, Ohio native.
“She has just improved in every aspect that you could think of,” Mitchell said. “She comes out with a great attitude and an attitude of leadership every day. She has been very vocal when I have asked for that and she gets more consistent with that all the time. She has really worked hard this summer to prepare herself to have a great junior season and I couldn’t be happier with where she is right now.”
For Rice, she says it’s easy to bring the type of attitude that Mitchell and Co. are looking for when the coaches themselves bring so much energy to practice.
“I love working with this staff and they just bring so much energy and it makes you want to work hard,” Rice said. “It has been a great atmosphere in practice because you want to work hard for them because they bring so much energy every day.”
UK Athletics Photo