As one of the nation's top women's basketball recruits in 2014, Alyssa Rice chose to attend the University of Kentucky for myriad reasons that included more than just sports.

Rice battled through a foot injury early in 2015-16 but stuck it out during a season in which five of her teammates decided to transfer.

The Wildcats followed a 25-8 finish that season, when they reached the Sweet Sixteen, by losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Rice's junior season. This past season, they slipped to 15-17 for their first losing record since 2003-04.

One of just two seniors this winter for Kentucky, Rice left the program as a two-year starter. That followed a career at Reynoldsburg High School in which she was named Division I district Player of the Year as a senior and played in the McDonald's All-American Game.

She shined even brighter, though, off the court the last four years.

With a 3.938 cumulative GPA, Rice recently was named one of the Southeastern Conference's three Scholar-Athletes of the Year. It was among several academic and service honors that she's received the past few months.

"I got along with the coaching staff very well and felt like it was a program that wanted to better me as a person and not just a basketball player," Rice said. "I definitely feel like it was the right choice to come here. I wouldn't change anything if I had to do it all over again. Kentucky's been good to me for my four years.

"It's been great going against the best of the best. I knew coming to Kentucky was something that would challenge me, but it was a great opportunity and it was a great experience. This year we were really young, with six new players, but this year was like a building block for them getting ready for next year."

Rice, who graduated May 4 with a degree in accounting -- she minored in psychology and communications -- is planning to attend Ohio University for graduate school. She plans to be a part of the MBA program with a focus on earning a master's of sports administration.

"I actually want to (work in) the operations side of sports at the professional or collegiate level," Rice said.

Rice learned in late April that she was one of 29 women's basketball players from across the nation to be named to the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholars first team by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine for her combination of athletic and academic success as well as her community activism.

As a senior she was voted as a chair of the SEC Women's Basketball Leadership Council and chosen as the SEC's representative on the NCAA Division I women's basketball competition committee.

In summer 2017, she was named to the SEC Community Service Team and traveled with several other athletes on a service trip to Panama.

At Kentucky's CATSPY awards April 23, Rice was named the school's Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year and was one of four student-athletes to earn a Community Service Award.

Rice found out about her SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award via social media.

"It was awesome just seeing your hard work pay off," she said. "Sometimes when you're in the midst of it you question why you're doing all the hard work, but at the end it's nice to get (the recognition) at end of day. I was a little surprised, especially the SEC one. I got a trophy, which I was awarded at the SEC tournament before our game.

"I've always had that driven mindset. My parents taught me from an early age to have that self-motivation to do my best and challenge myself. It came naturally. I've always been a straight-A student, so I was the type of student that would have a 100 percent but would still do extra credit to have a 103 percent. I've always been an overachiever."

Rice, a 6-foot-3 center, played in 125 games for Kentucky, starting 75, and averaged 6.6 points and 5.8 rebounds while also recording 36 blocked shots as a senior.

She closed her college career with 512 points.

The youngest of three children, Rice put together one of central Ohio's greatest prep careers with the Raiders.

In addition to leading Reynoldsburg to four league titles, four district championships and one regional title, she is the program's all-time leader in scoring (1,440 points) and rebounds (930).

"Alyssa's upbringing paved the way for her to be successful in whatever she chose to do," Raiders coach Jack Purtell said.

"She's a tireless worker. She's kind. She's compassionate. She's unselfish. I could go on and on.

"We're obviously proud of the basketball accomplishments Alyssa has achieved, but that doesn't begin to define who she is. She's a role model for us all as are her parents, Kevin and Laurie. They teach people how to give, not take. The end of her basketball career is just the beginning of bigger and better things for her."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek