Austin Rivers: On Top of the World

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Although not Canadian, we still had to bring him to your attention, especially considering the fact that Rivers will be taking over th league in a few years time. Enjoy.

CHICAGO, IL – He commands double-teams on the court and swarms of media off the hardwood. It’s late on Wednesday night, and the hallways of the United Center are jam-packed with reporters looking to catch up with the hottest basketball prospects in North America. The 34th annual McDonald’s All-American has just wrapped up, and the players are about to emerge from the locker room to face the reporters looking to get a quote or snap a picture. The locker room doors open, and the action begins. Despite the fact that there are 24 players available, an especially large crowd seems to be gathering at one end of the hallway. As one inches closer to take a look, it becomes apparent why – holding court, and speaking with an air of confidence is Austin Rivers: the best NCAA prospect in the entire world.

The son of former NBA player and current Boston Celtics coach, Glenn ‘Doc’ Rivers, Austin has had basketball pundits drooling over his talent for years. Ranked as the number one recruit in the 2011 NCAA class by both ESPN and Rivals.com, his game is hard to criticize, and even appears to be NBA-ready in several aspects.

Austin is absolutely deadly with the ball in his hands, as evidenced by his 30 point per game average as a high school senior at Winter Park in Florida. He is a dead-eye shooter who can also blow by his defender by using his excellent jab-step. His mid-range game includes an arsenal of floating shots and spin moves that he utilizes to perfection, and he can finish through contact when attacking the rim. His basketball IQ is also advanced, and he uses it effectively when finding an open man when he gets double teamed, or when freeing himself up when being denied by defenders. Despite being relatively average in height at 6’3, Austin has tremendous athleticism that he puts into effect not only on offence, but while providing an aggressive defensive presence as well.

When asked about the biggest strength of his game, though, Austin doesn’t mention any of the above. “Confidence is the biggest factor in my game. I can miss eight shots in a row, and I’ll have no doubt in my mind that I’ll make the next one,” says Austin. “As a scorer and a playmaker, it’s a mentality I think you have to have.”

Considering the challenge that awaits Austin as an NCAA freshman, it’s a good thing he is brimming with confidence. As the Duke Blue Devils’ prize recruit, he will be heavily counted on to uphold the school’s expectations of contending for a national title. With star players Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler graduating, as well as the possibility of star guard Kyrie Irving leaving school early for the NBA, all eyes will be on Austin to carry the torch for the storied club. It’s a challenge that Austin embraces, and one that he’s ready for.

“I’m very excited to come to Duke,” Austin admits. “There are high expectations for me but I’m not nervous at all. It’s a heck of an opportunity for me. One of the reasons I chose to come to Duke is because it’s not an easy way into the NCAA. I’m going to have to earn my minutes, and they won’t just open the doors and roll out the red carpet for me. Going to Duke will make me a better ball player and a better person.”

Despite being an all-world talent, Austin is not ready to rest on his laurels yet – not by a long shot. When asked about what drives him to excellence, there is no hesitation in his answer. “It’s my work ethic,” Austin explains.  “I never stop playing and I never stop working, and when you throw my confidence in there, it’s what makes me the player I am. What you put into the game is what you get out of it.”

One of the underlying motivations in Austin’s life comes from inspiration he gets from a family member – his older brother, Jeremiah, who is a graduating member of the Indiana Hoosier basketball program. “My brother has been a big influence on me. He’s battled through a lot of injuries (broken leg and wrist) but always worked hard to overcome his injuries. He never doubted himself – he just worked hard. The way he bounced back has always inspired me.”

The sky is the limit for Austin. With top-notch skills, a strong family support base, and all the motivation and hard work ethic in the world driving him on, Austin seems destined for success. Moreover, the confidence and intelligence that he exudes suggests that he has the maturity to take on all challenges in stride.

The interviews at the United Center are slowly dying down. Most players are finishing up some brief chats with reporters, while others start to file off toward the team bus. In the same corner as before, though, Austin Rivers stands, confident and up-right, patiently and articulately answering every question as a large group of reporters still hang on his every word. It’s just another day in the life of Austin Rivers – son of a legend, brother of an inspirational athlete, and owner of some of the nastiest skills this side of the Atlantic.

PHOTO COURTESY: Brian Kersey – Associated Press, Orlando Sentinel

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