|Austin Rivers, who has committed to Florida, is considered by some the best high school senior guard in the country. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)|
This one a chip off the old Doc
Doc Rivers ticks off the cities where his son Austin played basketball this summer: Portland. Chicago. New York. Cleveland. Atlanta. Dallas. Orlando (the Disney World complex). And he may have forgotten one or two.
The kid, you see, is a big-timer.
Austin Rivers is a 6-foot-4-inch high school senior guard. Some people - hey, I’m just reporting - maintain that he is the best senior guard in America. He is, by the way, already spoken for, having committed to Billy Donovan and Florida after his freshman year, which does not entirely please Pop.
Nothing against Donovan, but . . .
“I just thought he should look [at other schools], just to make sure,’’ Rivers says. “But that’s where he wants to go. He’s going to Florida. There’s no doubt about that. He’s committed there. He’s a Florida kid.’’
Perhaps to placate Pop, the lad did make a recent visit to Duke, while reaffirming his loyalty to the Gators.
Doc has been here before. Austin’s older brother, Jeremiah, was also a highly recruited player. He started out at Georgetown but transferred after his sophomore year to Indiana, where he will play for Tom Crean this winter. The Jeremiah Rivers reality is that, while he’s a good defender, he has been a very shaky shooter.
Austin Rivers is another matter entirely.
“They’re all saying he’s a combo guard,’’ Rivers explains.
By “they,’’ he means the other marquee coaches (Mike Krzyzew ski, for example) who are hoping Doc’s kid will change his mind.
“They say he’s neither a 1 nor a 2. I know this: He’s a better scorer than I ever was. He’s got point guard vision, but he scores a lot of points.’’
Doc is being typically modest about his own career, of course. His 31-point second half remains the gold standard for Boston Shootout guard performances. He was a star at Marquette. He played 13 years in the NBA and was good enough to get himself into an All-Star Game. So the fact is that Austin will do very well if he can even approximate his dad’s career.
The world has changed immeasurably since Glenn (not yet Doc) Rivers was preparing for his senior year at Proviso East High School. You know how many cities Rivers père played in that last summer before his senior year?
“I never left the city,’’ he recalls. “You got up, and you started asking around about where the games would be that day. Isiah [Thomas], Mark [Aguirre], and some other guys. It was either going to be at 10th Street, Winfield Scott, or Martin Luther King.
“I played in a couple of summer leagues, but the big thing was finding out where the best game was going to be that day.’’
Now it’s All-AAU, all the time. A young basketball prospect lives a full life of games and travel. “They might play three or four times a day,’’ Rivers marvels.
A common modern assumption is that these kids no longer care one whit about high school, that it’s all about the summer and the AAU titles they can win. Rivers insists that is not the case with his son, who is the star player on the Winter Park Wildcats.
“No, no, he wants to win the state title,’’ Rivers says. “They lost the championship game last year, and he really wants to win this year. It’s refreshing.’’
Rivers is amused when people reference his son by saying things like, “What do you expect? He’s Doc Rivers’s kid.’’
“I’ve always tried to handle this as a parent, not as a coach,’’ Rivers explains. “And the fun part of it for me as a parent is that I’ve watched him do the work. Nothing has been handed to him. Talent? Yes, he’s got talent, but he’s also willing to do the work.’’
Doc has to have worked with him; he’d be remiss if he didn’t. But his expertise might show up more on the mental side than the physical.
“What I tell him is, ‘Figure out a way to win,’ ’’ Rivers says. “ ‘You’ll learn how to be a player if you learn how to win.’ ’’
Doc is hip to the hype game, which is another reason he wants to downplay the father/son connection regarding the career expectations.
“He’s a very good player, but he’s a very good high school player,’’ Doc points out. “There’s a huge difference.’’
For one thing, Austin Rivers is a skinny kid with a high schooler’s body. He’s no precocious man-child, a la LeBron, or for those of you historically minded local hoop freaks, Ronnie Lee.
“He’s just beginning to get into the weight room,’’ Rivers says. “And that’s fine. He’s long and skinny. I know a lot of kids have started before this, but I’ve told him, ‘Just keep working on the skills first. You’ll have your whole career to lift weights.’ ’’
It seems to me that’s rational advice from One Who Knows.
There appears to be little doubt that Austin Rivers is the real deal.
Renowned high school recruiting guru Tom Konchalski told the world this summer, “He can shoot the ball, he knows how to create separation, he knows how to get to the basket, and he knows how to finish,’’ concluding, “The sky’s the limit.’’
Assuming Austin does keep that commitment to the Gators, Doc could spend one year catching a two-fer. Austin’s sister Callie is a junior on the Florida volleyball team.
Doc confesses it’s far less stressful to watch Callie play.
“I can just go and have a ball, yell and cheer, because I don’t know anything about the game,’’ he says.
No such luck with Austin. Doc is stuck with the prodigy. He knows the ins, the outs, the ups, and, most of all, the downs of what his son is in for. He’s proud, yes, but you also know he’s worried.