Carly Rice, with basketball, stands with Pennington School girls’ basketball coach Jeff Eckerson and her mother and father, Molly and Carl Rice.

 

Carly Rice has had numerous coaches and players help her over the years, but she points to one guy in particular as making an impact: her brother D.J.

Carly is in the senior year of what has been an outstanding career with the Pennington girls’ team. Proof of her impressive body of work came on Nov. 29, when she scored her 1,000th point in a win over Abington Friends, making her just the third girl in school history to reach that milestone.

D.J. Rice graduated last spring after a solid four-year run with the Pennington School basketball team, but he is still making an impact on the court for the Red Raiders — it just happens to be on the opposite gender’s court.

“Ever since I picked up a basketball he has been there supporting me, coaching me and pushing me to be the best I can be,” she said of D.J. “All those one-on-one games in the driveway paid off and I am very thankful to have him. He has been hard on me at times because that’s what brothers are for. If I did not have him encouraging me throughout the years I would not be the player I am today.”

And what a player she is. Her consistency has been remarkable at Pennington, as scoring averages in her first three seasons were 16.7, 15.5 and 15.9. This year she was at 17.2 in Pennington’s 4-0 start. In those same three years her assist totals were 51, 41, 32; her rebound average was 3.2, 2.4, 3.8; and her steals were 2.6, 1.9, 1.7.

That was accomplished with Rice playing point guard, which is not her natural position. A true two guard, she handled the job because coach Jeff Eckerson had no one else. Free of those duties now that Diamond Christian has taken over the role, Rice can be an even more explosive scorer.

“Carly has been an amazing point guard for us over the last three seasons,” Eckerson said. “She has the ball handling skills to be a great point guard, it wasn’t like she had a hard time doing it. But she’s a natural shooter and that’s the person you want to have coming off screens and catching and shooting.”

The Pennington native never once complained about being at the point, and certainly looked the part with how she went about it. But she’s happy to be “home”, at the position she played in Hopewell Valley YMCA and with the Mid Jersey Mavericks and FBC Defenders AAU teams.

“I liked playing point guard, but I was a point guard by default,” she said. “At times, I felt pressure playing the point but I needed to do everything I could to help my team win and play together. Now that we have Diamond Christian joining the team this year, it really takes the pressure off of my shoulders. She is a great point guard, knows how to score and distribute the ball. I am beyond happy to not only have her by my side but also be able to play my true position.”

But if Eckerson asked her to play center, Rice would do it if it benefits the Red Raiders.

“Probably the biggest thing I can say about her, is she’s just a competitor,” the coach said. “We’ve won a lot of games in her time (47 as of Dec. 11) and she really will do anything to help the team win. She is just someone who would run through a wall to help the team succeed.”

Rice has played organized hoops since second grade and Eckerson felt she already understood the game when she arrived at high school. She just needed some time to mature physically. Rice had no trouble scoring right away, but has molded herself into an all-around player the last few years.

“Carly’s consistent scoring, even when she has often been the focus of the other team’s defense, has been a big reason for the success of our team in recent years,” the coach said. “To her credit, Carly has developed into a much more complete player during her high school career. She has become a better defender, rebounder and passer over time.”

Which is something Rice knows is necessary when it comes to helping the Red Raiders.

“I love to score,” she said, “but what I love more is doing anything I can to help my team win. I definitely take pride in being a complete player. I have always been known to just shoot the ball but the past few years I have been working hard to help my team win in other ways rather than just scoring all the time. But, of course, when I have a shot, I’m always going to take it.”

Her arsenal has improved, as Rice has gone from mainly a three-point shooter as a freshman to someone who is able to create her own shot in various ways.

“I have been working on my game a lot and trying to get physically stronger, especially over the summer and this fall,” Rice said. “I have had a few coaches and trainers helping me develop my game throughout the years. Since my freshman year, I have been determined to add more to my game than just my three-point shot because it is important to me to be more than just a shooter. Especially when you play at a high level.”

Rice’s level has been as high as any female player at Pennington as witnessed by her 1,000-plus points,

“Scoring my 1,000th point means the world to me,” she said. “It is a dream come true and something I have been wanting to do since my freshman year. Knowing I am now one of sixteen to do it at Pennington is a true honor and something that I will forever cherish.”

Away from the court, Rice baby sits, performs community service and works at Pennington’s basketball and soccer summer camps. Her next stop is Gettysburg College, which is also where Robbinsville High standout Fiona Aromando will be going.

“Gettysburg was the one school that really stuck out to me out of all the schools I was looking at,” she said. “I did not want to go to a big school or go too far from home and had my mind set on going Division Three. Once I met the coaches and visited the campus it was everything I wanted, all in one.”

If she continues her stellar play in Pennsylvania, the coaches may just want to send a letter of thanks to D.J.