- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Maureece Rice first noticed his knack for it as a grade schooler, playing in a recreation league in North Philadelphia.

“I just was like a natural scorer,” Rice said. “I was in this Strawberry Mansion league. It was my first game. I just went to the park and played, and I dropped 40. I was 10 or 11, and everybody was shocked. They were like, ‘Who is this kid?’”

The “kid” wound up breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s Philadelphia high school career scoring record. He averaged 29.2 points as a senior at Strawberry Mansion High and once posted a 63-point game.

Now, Rice is scoring for George Washington, averaging 11.9 points and 3.1 assists off the bench. GW, which plays host to Massachusetts (10-11, 5-5) tonight at Smith Center, has won 12 straight and can come within one of the program’s longest winning streak (14 in 1935-36) with a victory against the reeling Minutemen, who have lost five of six.

Rice has been a large part of GW’s streak. It usually doesn’t take coach Karl Hobbs long to direct Rice toward the scorer’s table — particularly if GW is struggling on offense. Soon after, the burly guard usually puts on a scoring show.

“You look at him and say, ‘Who is this guy?’ ” said Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli, whose Hawks became Rice and GW’s latest victim Saturday. “Then all of a sudden, he is doing a Vinny Johnson from the [old Detroit] Pistons. He can heat up in a hurry.”

The Colonials’ backup point guard is one of the nation’s top sixth men. Martelli called Rice an “all-league player that happens to be willing to come into the game for them” and added that if any other player gets a vote for the Atlantic 10 sixth man of the year award, “they should take away the vote from the coaches.”

GW’s “Microwave” had 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting in the 64-62 win over Saint Joseph’s in Philadelphia. He bailed out an inept offense in the first half by making three of five shots while the rest of the team shot 4-for-23.

And Rice’s jubilant homecoming was just getting started. He keyed a second-half comeback with creative shots, including a runner in the lane high off the glass that gave GW its first lead since early in the game.

Rice showed the many ways he can light up the scoreboard, including transition layups, 3-pointers and three-point plays. Though the Colonials seemed ripe for an upset, Rice ensured that GW (20-1, 10-0 A-10) would reach the best start in the program’s 89-season history.

“He just has incredible confidence,” Hobbs said. “Most scorers are confident. They have an incredible sense of themselves, and that’s a great trait to have. He feels he can make every shot.”

Earlier, Rice had a team-high 21 points as GW erased a 17-point deficit in an 89-85 win at Xavier. Rice started the second half with a steal and score and later nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer with 36 seconds left.

He had 19 points in a win over then-No. 21 Maryland and 21 points at Charlotte, which was expected to challenge GW for the A-10 crown. But Rice was just doing what he always has done.

Rice’s slashing and often physically punishing drives make him that much more dangerous. He uses his broad 215-pound frame to get into scoring position and draw contact and is strong enough to absorb blows while making a shot and drawing fouls.

“His body strength allows him to do that,” Hobbs said. “He has those strong legs and a big, physical body, so he can bounce off guys and score. He is one of our best finishers in terms of ‘and one’ because he can take the hit and finish the play.”

Rice has evolved into a lethal weapon after getting limited playing time last season. He averaged 3.4 points with a season high of nine while playing behind Carl Elliott and senior point guard T.J. Thompson. The third-string point guard, who chose to come to GW over Miami, concedes it was a difficult season.

He was eager to start his college career after being forced to spend at year at Lutheran Prep to get his test scores up. After being “the man” since his first playing days, riding the bench was a “shock.”

“At times I was mad,” Rice said. “When I knew I could be out there because someone else wasn’t as playing as well as they usually did and [Hobbs] still wouldn’t play me, I would call my mom, and she would tell me, ‘Everything is going to be all right. You just have to wait your turn.’ ”

Hobbs gave him similar advice, and now Rice’s time has come. Even though he wants to start, he is making his mark playing some 25 minutes as the top reserve.

“That’s the role I have, so I will take it,” he said. “If I get the starting slot, I will be even happier. Sixth man, there is nothing wrong with it. I can come off the bench and still do what I could do as a starter.”

That has been proved against the top teams GW has faced.

“He gives them [another] dimension,” Martelli said. “I mean look around — not just in our league — but in college basketball. Tell me who else has a guy averaging double figures coming into a game?”