Duke Basketball: What Does Austin Rivers Have to Prove?

Ro ShiellAnalyst IOctober 25, 2011

Five people could watch a leaf float in the wind and each person would see something completely different.

Take Shane Ryan from Grantland who wrote a scathing piece about freshman Austin Rivers’s performance during the Blue-White scrimmage:

Austin Rivers smolders. The Duke freshman, son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers and the top-rated shooting guard in his class, is perpetually trying to prove something. It's a demeanor borrowed straight from the school of overt masculinity. Each play is a battleground on which his manhood is at stake, and each reaction is meant to affirm an inner toughness. When things go wrong, he twists his face into a bitter scowl, shakes his head, and lets the world know he's been the victim of injustice. When things go right, his head bobs defiantly and the scowl transforms into a thin grin of conquest. Unlike his counterparts in the NBA, he's still young enough that it all feels like a mannerism rather than something inherent. It may be less phony than aspirational, but the hard swagger is a long way from legitimate. It's simply a boy's way of acting like a man.


Rivers may have some maturity issues and as his father is a former NBA player and current coach of the Boston Celtics, maybe he picked up some bad habits from the pros. But Rivers was trying to prove something: that he is the best player on the court, at his position, in his freshman class and in college basketball.

The last one may be silly but as the saying goes aim for the stars and you will reach the moon. Sure there is drama at Duke, as each player tries to claim a huge chunk of the limelight vacated by Kyle Singler, Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith.

Austin Rivers has been a marked man from the minute he arrived on campus. He was handed the reins pretty early by every media outlet.  Players like Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins may have felt slighted and justly so. No one wants to back a team where players will give up ground without a fight but come opening day all will be well. It is the Duke way to play in harmony on the court.

Rivers will learn to control himself, he just needs to adjust. He should not have to prove anything. The lion need not prove himself to the hyena.

Better to have a good player that may need a slight attitude adjustment than a meek player with severe limitations in his game. The former can be corrected but not much can be done for the latter.

Ryan clearly is a very insightful writer who predicted that Duke will win the championship next year, albeit in a confusing way, but what he has to realize is Rivers has a lot to deal with. Heckling is a 24 hour past-time these days.

Hardly any fan outside of Duke’s fan base thinks Rivers deserves his high recruiting ranking. Most think Bradley Beal of the Florida Gators is better than Rivers at the guard position.

No wonder Rivers feels he has to prove his doubters wrong by playing with a chip on his shoulder. When he chose Duke, he said in his diary that:

I had a lot of Duke fans showing me love, but the Tar Heel fans were just hating on me bad. I guess that I’m not gonna be received too well at the Dean Dome…

One can only imagine the amount of negative feedback this guy receives on a daily basis. Even his suggestion of a nickname (Sub-Zero—love it!) was ridiculed on Twitter.

If he does not seem to be bothered by the negativity, eventually it will manifest and may affect him on the court. Rivers is young and hopefully he will learn to control himself and let his game do the talking.

I can't disagree with Ryan's very thoughtful insight, however to suggest or imply that there is animosity between kids at Duke is sacrilege. You can’t expect every player to love each other, but be sure they will play as one under Coach K.