After losing season to cancer, Myles Rice helps lead WSU hoops resurgence
Feb 7, 2024, 1:59 PM | Updated: 1:59 pm
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
At 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, Tamara Rice boarded a cross-country flight for an opportunity that a year ago was not guaranteed.
The chance to get a hug from her son Myles before tipoff of his basketball game that night. The opportunity for a picture with him standing, smiling at midcourt after a rivalry victory a couple of hours later where her son played a major role in the win.
“It’s just an amazing journey to finally see him doing what he loves to do and doing it good. Doing it well,” Tamara said. “Where he came from, it’s just an amazing experience. You just smile.”
This time a year ago, the basketball career for Myles Rice at WSU was a secondary concern. The primary challenge was managing chemotherapy treatments after he was diagnosed with a form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
What was expected to be Rice’s breakout season on the basketball court was instead spent being pumped with a regimen of chemotherapy drugs that stunted any growth and pummeled the disease into remission.
And it made basketball possible again.
“I’m enjoying the little moments of it, just not taking the small moments for granted,” Myles said. “Just being able to go out there and play the game that I love, around a community that loves me, coaching staff that loves me, teammates that love me, it’s definitely been exciting.”
Myles Rice may have lost a season of basketball to cancer, but he’s now helping lead a resurgence at WSU with hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid going into the final month of the regular season.
Washington State has won six of its last seven games and is tied for second place in the Pac-12 heading into Thursday’s game at Oregon State. Washington State’s 16 wins are one off last season’s total of 17. The Cougars have a chance at a top-four finish in the Pac-12 and potentially their first NCAAs berth since 2008.
Rice is a big part of why.
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) February 5, 2024
He might be the leading candidate for Pac-12 freshman of the year, averaging 15.7 points for a team that was picked to finish 10th in the preseason conference media poll after being raided by transfer portal departures after last season.
“I’m amazed after two years off playing what he is doing,” Washington State coach Kyle Smith said.
Audio from Monday: WSU coach Kyle Smith joins Bump and Stacy
Rice redshirted during the 2021-22 season and was expected to be a major contributor last season prior to his cancer diagnosis that started with an aunt suggesting getting checked what appeared to be enlarged lymph nodes in his neck.
But seemingly every chapter of Rice’s journey to this point has its share of surrealism woven into the story of a pretty good basketball player.
Take his recruitment.
Washington State was the only Power Five school to offer Rice a full scholarship. As much as Rice and his family would have liked for him to stay near his home outside Atlanta there were no offers from the big schools he felt he could play for.
Smith and his coaching staff never saw Rice play in person due to restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. His entire recruitment to the remote college outpost of Pullman was all virtual.
“We had a great Zoom game,” Smith said.
Rice vividly remembers the wheat fields when he first moved to campus.
“I just looked at my mom and I said, ‘I don’t know what I just did,’” Myles recalled. “After about a week of being there I fell in love with it.”
Or the day of his diagnosis.
It happened on Sept. 12. His mom’s birthday.
“I just automatically assumed the worst because I’ve had a lot of family members affected by cancer, and they’ve been on the good side and the bad side of it. Your mind just really just starts to race a lot,” Myles said.
Tamara Rice was driving home after work when Myles called with the news.
“I had to pull over because I was driving and l had to regroup and tell myself like, ‘OK, what do we need to do now to move forward?’” Tamara said.
Tamara relocated to Pullman while her son was going through treatment. She took him to and from appointments. She also made him still go to class and take part in practices — to the extent that he could — when he was feeling well enough.
The tough moments were plentiful. The first treatment. The day Myles showed his mom clumps of hair had started to fall out. The games he could only watch.
But they made a point there would be no pity party.
“You’re doing something all your life and now it’s taken away, so mentally that could be hard on anyone,” Tamara said. “You’re young, you’re strong, you’re going to keep going. So we just kept going. Even though we’re going through this hurdle, we’re going to get over that hurdle.”
Rice completed treatments last spring, but one scare remained — an infection landed him in the hospital for a week. There was initial concern the cancer had spread, but tests cleared him of the cancer worry and antibiotics took care of the infection.
He was on the golf course with his dad when he got the call he was in remission.
Rice freely talks about his bout with cancer because of the positive outcome and the inspirational message that comes with it. Eventually, he hopes it becomes a footnote in his story to go along with the basketball.
“However I can be great in life in general, that’s success for me,” Rice said. “It’s not all the accolades or everything you get individually. I value team success over a lot of that stuff.”