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Two Rice starters may be hitting eject button after new coaching hire

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New Rice basketball coach Mike Rhoades' rebuilding job may have gotten immediately more difficult.

Reports surfaced Friday that center Sean Obi and sophomore guard Keith Washington have been granted releases from Rice, allowing them to transfer. If Obi leaves, it will be the third straight season Rice’s returning scoring leader has transferred.

Rhoades took the Rice job earlier this week and was introduced on Thursday. He served as an assistant coach the past five seasons at VCU. Prior to joining VCU’s staff, he was head coach of NCAA Division III Randolph-Macon College for 10 seasons, compiling a 197-76 record.

Obi, a 6-9 freshman who played high school basketball in Connecticut, could have a long list of suitors. He averaged nearly a double-double for the Owls this season, leading the team in points, rebounds and blocked shots. He was named to the all-Conference USA freshman team. He went for 22 and 17 against Marshall on Jan. 25.

Washington, a 6-1 sophomore from Philadelphia, averaged 7.7 points per game. He dished out 67 assists but turned the ball over 70 times.

If Obi and Washington leave the program, they will become the eighth and ninth players to transfer from Rice since 2012. Former Rice coach Ben Braun lost six players prior to the 2012-2013 season. Last summer, Julian DeBose transferred to Florida Gulf Coast.

Rice is coming off a 7-23 season, after going 5-26 the season before. Braun resigned on March 13.

In his news conference Thursday, Rhoades talked about the importance of recruiting in Houston as well as the state of Texas. He listed several reasons he thinks Rice is an attractive option for recruits.

“You will get one of the best educations in the world and play a fun style of basketball,” Rhoades said. “In 10, 20, 30 years from now the players will come back and be proud of what they built. If it’s your hometown, it’s even greater.”

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