Austin Rivers’ Fight With Destiny

03.23.12 7 years ago

Players get to pick their own entrance music for Countdown to Craziness, Duke’s version of Midnight Madness. Austin Rivers entered the spotlight to “I Do It” by Big Sean, which starts fittingly with: “I waited my whole life to be the man of the hour…” With Friday’s report that Rivers will leave Duke for the NBA, that mentality has never been more apparent.

From the start, Rivers never struck me as someone who intended to stay in Durham more than one year. When I talked to him in December, I asked him about Mike Krzyzewski continually adding to his own NCAA wins record, and he said, “We’re going to just try to keep it going, and next year, guys are going to try to keep it going and going.” He notably didn’t include himself in next year’s plans.

The most immediate criticism of Rivers I heard this year, even from Duke fans, was that he wasn’t Kyrie Irving, who spoiled everyone by showing up in college as a pro-caliber point guard. A year later, Rivers arrived with the hype and confidence that went along with being the consensus No. 2 recruit in the country, not to mention the pedigree of being Doc Rivers‘ son. As such, he received no orientation period and his game and attitude were scrutinized heavily before he finished his first week of NCAA ball.

In reality, Rivers was a really good player virtually from the start, which was evident long before his shot heard round the Research Triangle to beat UNC in Chapel Hill. He just wasn’t Kyrie Irving. But on a Duke team that lost three All-America caliber players, he stepped into a position of leadership from the get-go, carrying himself like a seasoned vet on the court and with the media. He had the ability to stick the big shot, lead by example and attack relentlessly when he smelled blood.

[RELATED: Report – Austin Rivers Is Going To The NBA]

Rivers had no trouble getting into the paint in college using a quick first step and guile, but he’s not as explosive as billed, which could present problems when the level of competition goes up significantly next season. Rivers was also frequently criticized for forcing the issue, though I’d suggest that if he didn’t do that at times, nobody else on this year’s iteration of Duke would.

But given how much more effective he is when he has the ball, Rivers could also stand to hone his point guard skills to become a more complete threat in the pick and roll. And for someone who shot a respectable 36 percent on threes, his midrange game needs work, and though Rivers was hardly a terrible defender, he wasn’t exactly Gary Payton either.

Is Austin Rivers explicitly ready for the pros? At this moment, probably not – but this isn’t to say he can’t get there in a hurry considering his steep learning curve and tunnel vision: Rivers believes he’s destined to be a star and won’t accept anything less.

Rivers was known at Duke for stealing away to the gym after everyone went to sleep to put up shots after midnight. When I was on campus in December, a couple students who lived in his dorm told me they had yet to talk to him. Rivers himself matter-of-factly told me, “Basketball is my life.” He views success with his craft as his only option.

[RELATED: Dime Q&A – Austin Rivers Rises Above The Headlines]

I can’t definitively tell you if Rivers will succeed on the next level; he’s still growing into his body, and though he’s plenty talented now, he has lots more to learn. But it’s hard to imagine he’s ever going to be complacent. Rivers won’t be satisfied being anything less than The Man, and if he doesn’t get there, it won’t be for a lack of effort.

“I just play my game, and I play hard,” Rivers told me in December, “and everything else works out for me.”

Time will tell if that holds true, but so far, so good.

Where should he be drafted in the first round?

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