How else to explain the relentless early-season scrutinization of Duke freshman guard Austin Rivers?
Before Rivers had played five games in college, articles breathlessly harped on the “problems” with his game, pondered whether he was “overrated,” or speculated about his attitude and relationships with teammates to fit a predetermined narrative.
And yet, despite the perversity of launching harsh critiques of Rivers so early into his college career, it’s difficult to imagine it having been any other way for a top 5 high school recruit who happens to be the son of Doc Rivers.
“Austin has been signing autographs for fans and hanging out with his dad’s players and friends in the NBA for years, so he fits right in with basketball’s most nationally televised team as far as fame and notoriety goes,” says Adam Rowe of DukeHoopBlog.com. “If he was at almost any other school, that fame and polarization would stick out like a sore thumb. But Duke and Rivers are seemingly perfect fits.”
In what is hardly a shock for someone labeled a “basketball nerd” by his father, Austin has proved a quick study, fueled by an indomitable desire to get better. It’s not uncommon for Rivers to steal away to the gym for after-midnight shooting sessions, literally improving while everyone else sleeps.
By December, Rivers had found a consistent groove â€“ playing within the flow of the offense, working hard to improve on defense and using his talents to create for teammates. Comparisons to a ready-made Kyrie Irving were off-base – understandably so – but with the luxury of a dozen games under his belt, Rivers had nonetheless emerged as a very good player.
Holding court at his locker after scoring 14 points in Duke’s 90-63 win over UNC Greensboro, the 19-year-old coolly and amiably addressed the media with the polish of a seasoned veteran, no surprise given the environment he came up in. In between questions, he joked with backcourt mate Seth Curry as part of an animated discussion about Young Jeezy‘s new album.
But when asked about the early-season media scrutiny, Rivers’ eyes narrowed slightly but perceptibly, while his words became a bit more pointed.
“I read a couple of (articles), they motivated me, and it seems like the tune has changed now,” said Rivers. “When I first came in, people were saying, ‘Austin needs to do this, Austin’s not doing this,’ and that’s just because I came in with all that hype and they expected (a great deal) early. People don’t understand that I was just getting into it, that I was playing better and better and better.
“And now that I’m playing good, now everybody’s saying, ‘Oh Austin, you’re doing this great, and you’re doing that.’ It just goes through one ear and out the other, because I know I can keep getting better and keep learning. The ultimate goal for me here is just to win, and that’s what we’ve been doing, so I’m doing fine.”
We caught up with Austin for a few minutes to discuss his adjustment to college basketball and life at Duke, his tastes in sneakers and music, and the return of the NBA.