Austin Rivers grew up wanting to play for Spurs


Austin RiversDuke guard Austin Rivers is projected to be drafted in the lottery during the 2012 NBA Draft later this week.

Rivers’ draft celebration party may be over with by the time the San Antonio Spurs take their pick with the 59th selection, but that doesn’t mean Rivers didn’t have silver and black dreams growing up.

Before he becomes one of the more exciting young NBA prospects, Rivers has plenty of NBA experience following around his father, Doc Rivers, a player turned Boston Celtics coach who spent the final two years of his career with the Spurs.

“Austin was fired up to beat North Carolina,” said his father, Doc Rivers, “but not because it was this great rivalry. Not because it was Carolina.

“You’ve got to understand. Austin didn’t grow up wanting to play for Duke or Carolina. He grew up wanting to play for the Atlanta Hawks or the San Antonio Spurs or the New York Knicks.”

The Hawks, Knicks and Spurs account for three of the four teams Doc Rivers played for during his NBA career.

While it’s more likely Austin will end up with the Warriors, Raptors or Hornets, it’s clear that San Antonio isn’t completely out of his mind by now.

While a young swingman would more likely envision himself in Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade’s shoes, Rivers mentions Spurs all-star guard Tony Parker when talking about his future NBA career.

Rivers calls himself an “aggressive” and “coachable” player who mentions Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose and Deron Williams — not Kobe Bryant — when he envisions himself in the NBA.

“Point guards, shooting guards, they’re both,” Rivers said. “Most importantly, those guys win. That’s what I’m trying to do, just be a winner.”

While there’s been some bad publicity going on about Rivers’ confident attitude and a YouTube video circling that shows him laboring to make open jumpers in a conditioning test, I can telll you from firsthand experience that Rivers has the talent, attitude and support system to be much more than a jump shooter in this league.

I got a chance to cover the FIBA U18 Tournament in San Antonio years ago and payed special attention to a USA team that featured Rivers along with Kyrie Irving, current draft prospect Quincy Miller, Marquette’s Vander Blue, Duke’s Josh Hairston and Washington’s Abdul Gaddy.

Rivers was clearly the best player on that team, even ahead of Irving. Rivers’ rarely had to break a sweat and usually played around 20 minutes, because that was all it took to put his team on his back and put them ahead early. In a semifinal game against Texas’ Myck Kabongo and Canada, he knocked down nine straight three-pointers on his way to 35 points in 22 minutes and showed signs of a solid passing game and good awareness on defense.

While Rivers won’t be making a trip back to San Antonio until his first road game here next season, let’s hope his FIBA U18 three-point shooting record stays in Greehey Arena.