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Rice reloads after repeat

Green Knights figuring out new roles after major roster turnover
Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 10:13 PM EST
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - It is one of the most dominant programs in any sport you’ll find anywhere in Vermont. The Rice boys basketball team has captured a whopping 17 state titles all time, more than all but two other programs in the state. And they’ve done it all as a member of Division 1.

“You know these guys are all winners,” said head coach Paul Pecor. “They really are. Whether it goes from AAU basketball or goes to the school teams that they came from before, when they come here, they know what’s expected of them.”

In fact the Green Knights happen to be the two-time defending champs of Vermont’s top division. But this year’s squad looks very different from those championship teams.

“We don’t have a lot of old people, like seniors,” said junior captain Sharif Sharif. “We’re all kinda young still so we all got some learning to do, fill some roles.”

“That’s one of the tough things about having such a young group; they don’t have anything behind them,” Pecor said. “Those freshmen have no idea what our offense even looks like, you know what I mean? So it’s been definitely a learning curve for all of us.”

Gone are four of Rice’s key players from a year ago, most notably captain Mo Awayle and two-time state player of the year Michel Ndayishimiye. The Green Knights have zero seniors on this year’s roster, and a new group of leaders has had to step up to fill that void.

“I’ve kind of been a role player the whole entire time I’ve been here,” said fellow junior captain Mo Kanneh. “It’s kind of new to step in and try to help other people and kind of get us together as a team.”

“I was always the younger guy coming up, now I’ve got to be big brother for these kids,” Sharif said.

As first-year captains, Sharif and Kanneh are still figuring their way around the whole “leadership” thing. But both guys say the input they’ve gotten from those who have come before them, specifically a pair of current Catamounts, has helped a lot.

“Sometimes I talk to people like (2016 grad) Ben Shungu and he gives me advice like being under pressure,” Kanneh said. “He helps me with that.”

“I dunno, it’s just cool seeing some D1 guys talk to you, you know help you get better,” Sharif added.

“You know it starts with our alumni,” Pecor said. “Our players look up to those guys, you look up to a Benny Shungu, even now Michel (Ndayishimiye) obviously is not with us anymore so he’s at UVM. That’s another player that comes back and gives back to these guys. So it’s great for these guys, not only to be able to see those guys, but also for them to be around so much. So it kinda just carries over and carries over to the next group.”

And in spite of all the changes and challenges this group is dealing with, the Knights believe they have the chance to once again reach the pinnacle of Vermont high school basketball.

“Just winning another championship,” Kanneh said when asked what he’s most looking forward to about this season.

“We just work hard every day,” Sharif added. “We’ve worked hard in practice for the week before that game (Saturday’s win at South Burlington), got to know each other and you know, build that team chemistry.”

“Our number one goal is just keep getting better,” Said Pecor. “That’s the number one thing, and especially with this young of a group I think we’re gonna go in waves. We’re gonna have good times, we’re gonna have bad times. You just gotta kinda rise above it.”

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