Off the Charts

Darius Rice isn't the star he was supposed to be -- except to the person who matters most.

Originally Published: January 19, 2004
By Tim Keown | ESPN The Magazine

Darius Rice warms up from the first row. Honest. He stands five feet past the sideline on the right wing, talking to himself, shooting from beyond the bounds of the court while his Miami teammates practice free throws or power up from the low block.

Rice is 35, maybe 40 feet from the basket, his skinny legs bouncing to a silent rhythm. One shot falls through the net, then another, then another. His lips move and his head rolls from side to side, as he tells himself what he's about to do in the next 40 minutes. The message he's sending is clear: I'm bigger than the court, bigger than the game. The physical limits of the sport can't hold me.

His teammates keep feeding him, the shots keep falling, the lips keep moving. Placed in context, this one innocent, subconscious routine could keep a psychologist up nights. To see its significance, you have to know the hype that surrounded Rice four years ago, when, leaving high school in Mississippi, he chose to attend Miami instead of jumping to the NBA. He wasn't LeBron James, but he might have been Carmelo Anthony, someone who needed one year of big-conference ball to refine his game and entice the league with his limitless potential.

Now, in a twisted world where 21 is considered old for potential, Darius Rice the college senior fights to keep the hype alive, preparing for Savannah State on a Saturday night in January with shots from out of bounds. Not to get too deep, but Rice's career is an instructive study of our collective impatience with athletes who don't meet the expectations they had nothing to do with creating. What hype builds, hype destroys.

Tim Keown | email

ESPN Senior Writer