The junior transfer leads the team with 17 points a game and Monday was named Big Ten Player of the Week for his performance in two wins last week.
"He's performing like he's prepared himself to perform," Illinois coach John Groce said. "He's a great lesson for young guys."
Rice averaged 21 points and eight rebounds in victories at UNLV and against IPFW.
The stats speak for themselves, but he's proven to make timely plays as well.
He scored the game-winning bucket in the 61-59 comeback win over the Rebels. Versus IPFW, his steal late in the game secured another two-point margin.
"I always tell them in the summer that there comes a time when the fall and winter asks what did you do last summer," Groce said. "Obviously Ray had that mindset for the whole year that he was sitting out."
Rice, who transferred from Drake and sat out last year, shed 30 pounds and worked hard to improve his shooting and quickness. He's shooting 47 percent from the floor on the season and has hit 44 percent of his 3s in the previous three games.
"From that standpoint I'm really proud of him," Groce. "He's got to keep getting better. He knows that, but I like the start he's off too."