Women’s U18 Point Guard Kiki Rice Grows into Leading Role with National Team
Kiki Rice remembers being a member of the U.S. team that competed in the 2019 FIBA U16 Women’s Americas Championship in Chile. It was her first time on a USA Basketball roster after being invited to the 2018 U17 World Cup team trials a year earlier.
Rice was one of three players making their USA Basketball debuts in that Americas Championship, so she took a role of watching and learning from the players who had been in the program. She averaged 7.2 points and the U.S. won the gold medal with six consecutive victories.
Jump ahead to 2022 and Rice, a 5-foot-11 point guard and No. 2 recruit in the country who is headed for UCLA, is back on the national team, this time competing at the FIBA U18 Women’s Americas Championship in Buenos Aires this week. The U.S. is seeking its 10th consecutive gold medal at this age level. Rice was also on the 2021 USA Basketball 3x3 U18 World Cup Team that won a third straight gold.
Becoming a leader on a star-studded team — these are 12 of the best players in the country in this age group — was something she morphed into. To her credit, Rice comes with credentials. As a senior, not only did she lead Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., to a 30-0 record, a DCSAA title and a No. 1 ESPN and MaxPreps national ranking, Rice was named Gatorade National Player of the Year, Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year and Naismith High School Girls Player of the Year.
“That’s definitely something that I’ve had to work on,” said Rice, co-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game with fellow UCLA recruit Gabriela Jaquez. “A few years ago, I was definitely a more quiet one on the U16s. I wouldn't say I was really a vocal leader, but this year I’m trying to step out of my comfort zone more and use my experience to help everyone else.”
Rice said she especially took cues from Sonia Citron and Olivia Miles, both now at the University of Notre Dame, and how they conducted themselves as team leaders.
“I think this time around on the U18 team,” said Rice, who averaged 15.8 points, 7 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.6 steals as a senior. “I’ve been one of the ones who’s been on a USA team before and so whether that’s just talking to my teammates about knowing what it’s like playing on an international stage, different rules and different styles of play or just getting them prepped on what it's like to wear a USA Basketball jersey … and the kind of responsibility that comes with it.”
Rice credits her family with a part of that development and levelheadedness. Her dad, John, and mom, Andrea, played men’s basketball and women’s tennis, respectively, at Yale University. Her grandfather, Emmett John Rice, was one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen. She is a cousin of former NBA player Allan Houston, a two-time All-Star.
“A lot of that comes from my parents,” Rice said. “I think I come from a well-rounded family and my parents have always instilled in me the importance of being grounded and humble and not getting lost in any of the outside commentary and pressures.”
Of course, her parents tried to pull the legacy card and get her to attend Yale. But with an eye on a career in the WNBA, Rice had to eschew family ties and head to the West Coast and play for UCLA coach Cori Close, who was named co-winner of USA Basketball’s Developmental Coach of the Year in 2021 after coaching the U19 women’s team to a FIBA World Cup championship. In addition to playing against Jaquez in the McDonald’s game, Rice has another Bruins recruit with her on the Americas Championship roster in Londynn Jones. The two were also teammates on the U16 team.
When she isn’t on the court, Rice likes to spend her time volunteering, especially spending time with young kids. She said that comes from her childhood, when she was shy and people mentored her.
“In my family, it’s really important that you are not just an athlete, a basketball player, but someone who has an impact on the community,” Rice said. “So whether that’s volunteering, helping out in any other ways. I think it’s just kind of a general family thing, serving and helping others.”
But for now, Rice’s focus is on hoops and continuing the international success of USA Basketball.
“It’s incredible. It’s always an honor to wear the three letters across my chest,” Rice said. “And I think playing with USA Basketball means living up to a gold standard, which is something that our coaches and the entire USA Basketball staff preaches to us every day. It's obviously tough. It comes with expectations, but it is an honor to be able to wear this jersey.”
Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California.