Myles Rice, WSU's comeback kid

Nov. 8—It didn't take long for Washington State freshman guard Myles Rice to make his presence felt.

Three years after playing his last basketball game and more than a year after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, the 6-foot-3 guard was introduced as a starter for the Washington State men's basketball team Monday in its season opener against Idaho.

Moments later, Rice drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key and the crowd at Beasley Coliseum erupted in cheers.

"It was kind of surreal," said Rice, eyes a little watery and a huge smile on his face. "It's been two years coming. Just staying true to who I am, being that energy guy for the team, just being the guy who always has that smile no matter what hardships he goes through."

Rice finished the rivalry game tied for second on the team with 13 points in the 84-59 victory. He had four quick points as the Cougars burst out to a 7-0 lead to start the game and never looked back.

It was a game Rice will never forget.

"I had to kind of calm myself down earlier," Rice said. "I had a lot of emotions but just stayed around my family, stayed around my team. The end goal was to win the game. No matter how I played I was going to win it regardless because being on the court tonight coming back from what I did is a win in itself."

Rice is expected to be a big contributor at the guard spots this season — something he didn't know would ever happen when he was diagnosed with cancer on Sept. 12, 2022.

A Columbia, S.C., native, Rice moved across the country to join the Cougars in 2021 as a top-50 point guard in the nation out of Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone, Ga. He averaged 19.1 points, 6.0 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game as a high school senior en route to an undefeated league record.

Rice took a redshirt year on a deep Cougar squad during the 2021-22 season. He was preparing to debut the next season, but after he went home to Georgia over the summer, a family member noticed a lump on his neck. A test revealed it was Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the body's immune system.

His season was immediately put on hold as he underwent chemotherapy while still going to class at Washington State.

Rice's mom, Tamara Rice — who was in attendance Monday — moved to Pullman to live with him while he did his treatment.

"I don't think (Rice's teammates) will quite understand until they get later in life what an amazing thing he is doing," WSU coach Kyle Smith told the Seattle times in January. "It's obviously not nearly the same as a sprained ankle or an ACL because it is life threatening. But he hasn't let that deter him in any way."

After six months undergoing treatment, Rice was declared cancer free on March 9. Surrounded by loved ones and Cougar supporters and with that big smile on his face, he rang a bell to signal he had beaten the disease.

Right away, Rice went back to the gym to get back into basketball shape in hopes of contributing during the 2023-24 season.

At first he was rusty and out of shape, but eventually, Smith told him the "kid gloves are off" and it was time to coach him hard, like all the other players.

Rice responded well and ended up being the team's leading scorer in two preseason scrimmages.

"He's had just such an awesome, inspiring attitude for everybody and he doesn't feel sorry for himself," Smith said. "He really was unbelievable (in) how he handled it last year. He is who he is; it's great just to coach him."

On Monday, Rice painted his fingernails in honor of those close to him who have battled cancer as well as his personal acronym that helped him get through the last year.

On his left hand, he had the letters "AYN1" for "All You Need is One," his personal saying. His other hand had four different colored ribbons, one for an aunt who had breast cancer, one for his mom's boss who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, one for another aunt who had ovarian cancer and one for his own Hodgkin's lymphoma.

On the court, Rice hardly looked like a player who hadn't played in three years in the win against the Vandals. His 13 points came on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, 3-of-4 from the free-throw line and he added three assists and four rebounds.

Most notable was his speed with the ball and his confidence in his first ever game.

"I knew since the day I started treatment God had a plan for me," Rice said. "For some odd reason I always envisioned myself first game back, I just knew I was going to produce in a positive way. ... It's a blessing."

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, or on Twitter @StephanSports.