STATE COLLEGE -- The training-camp invitations the 76ers issued to Philadelphia native Maureece Rice and former Temple forward Antywane Robinson probably were for courtesy purposes only. Oh, sure, 17 players gathered here on the Penn State campus, but virtually all of the 12 active roster spots for the Oct. 29 season opener against the Toronto Raptors in the Wachovia Center not only have already been penciled in, they probably can be written in ink.
But Rice, a 6-1, 224-pound point guard who played at George Washington University, already has overcome one giant challenge on the basketball court, so why not dare to believe he can pull off another miracle?
“I’m a Philly guy. I always pull for the local teams, especially the Sixers,” Rice said. “I never thought the day would come when I went to camp with them. Hopefully, I can show them something and make the team. That would be like my dream come true.”
Rice, who played at Strawberry Mansion, has the distinction of replacing Overbrook’s legendary 7-footer Wilt Chamberlain as Philadelphia’s high-school career scoring leader. His 2,681 points eclipsed the Big Dipper’s previously unassailable total of 2,206, which had stood for over 50 years. As a senior, Rice averaged 29.2 points and was named Pennsylvania Class 4A Player of the Year. Strawberry Mansion won two Public League championships during his tenure.
All of which means little or nothing in his present circumstances. There is a very slim chance that Rice or former Texas Tech star Andre Emmett might do something spectacular enough during training camp and the preseason to make the roster, but even that is a longshot if coach Maurice Cheeks starts Andre Iguodala at shooting guard instead of small forward.
Guards Andre Miller, Lou Williams, Willie Green and Royal Ivey are locks to stick, as is 6-6 free-agent signee Kareem Rush, who also can play small forward.
“All I can do is play hard on both ends of the floor and prove to the coaching staff I can play at this level,” Rice said.
Maurice Cheeks welcomed his players by having them run “suicide sprints,” from sideline to sideline, after the morning practice. They had to complete 17 within a minute, a task that would be difficult enough for the guards, much less for less mobile big men.
“I used to have to do 17 in a minute,” reasoned the 52-year-old Cheeks. “If I could do it, they can do it.”
Cheeks generally pleased with the conditioning and effort of his squad, but then again it was the first day of camp.
“The first day is always very enthusiastic,” he said. “The first day, you’re playing off emotion.”