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Friday, April 2, 2010
Rivers won't dwell on defeat

By Chris Lawlor
ESPN Recruiting

BALTIMORE -- Disappointment dripped off the tongue of Austin Rivers. A year ago, you would not have been privy to this side of the nation's No. 2 junior.

Austin Rivers
Austin Rivers grew as a player and a person this past season.

Often he would brood alone, bottling up the frustration.

There's something to be said about maturity and how it transforms a teenager into a young adult. What a difference a year makes.

Rivers, a 6-foot-4 guard from Winter Park (Fla.), was standing in the bowels of the Physical Education Complex on the campus of Coppin State after a 62-56 overtime loss to neighboring rivals Montverde (Fla.) Academy on Friday.

After opening the ESPN RISE National High School Invitational with a win over Christ School (Arden, N.C.), the Wildcats were eliminated in the semifinals.

"It's disappointing, but you have to let it go," said Rivers, who finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds. "Last year I probably won't have come out to talk afterwards, or if I did, maybe I'd say two words.

"This is a big loss today, but I'm sure there will be many big wins and big losses left in my career. You can't let it bother you."

The measuring stick for all great players is championships. Last month Winter Park (29-6) won the school's first-ever state title (Class 6A) and set the program record for most wins with 29. Mix in four games televised by the ESPN family of networks, and it's easy to see why Rivers is adjusting to the bright lights that accompany prep-star status.

Winter Park coach David Bailey sees the progress.

"You could definitely say it's a sign of maturity, but there's more," he said. "In the past, he might have gotten upset with himself or his teammates if there was a big shot or play.

"Austin is also developing into a leader and trusts his teammates. That confidence translated into a better team, and we were able to reach our goal of state championship."

Individually, Rivers was named the Central Florida and Florida Class 6A player of the year. He closed the season with 1,958 career points, averaging 23.9 points and 4.4 rebounds, with a career high of 47 versus nationally ranked St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.).

"He's mentally tougher this year, and most of the time that's more important than physical toughness," said Paul Biancardi, ESPN's national recruiting director.

Rivers will need that toughness playing on the club circuit with Each One Teach One (Team Stat), beginning next weekend at the Boo Williams Invitational in Hampton, Va.

He'll also make a college decision, possibly a one- or two-year commitment. Rivers verbally committed to Florida as a freshman. Odds are now favoring Duke, but the Gators remain in the picture.

"I'm still open; no decision yet," Rivers said.

Faces in the crowd

The NHSI attracted some high-profile people throughout the weekend. There was Sam Cassel, a Baltimore native and NBA champion, wandering the hallways at Physical Education Complex and chatting with the players.

Along the sidelines and baselines, a congregation of coaches, including Mike Jones of DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.), Shonn Brown of Charlotte (N.C.) Christian, Mike Daniels of City College (Baltimore), Pat Clatchey of Mount St. Joseph (Baltimore) and Steve Tuner of Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.), watched the action.

Speaking of Gonzaga, Turner says he's excited about the 2010-11 season despite the graduation of three starters headed to Division I schools. Departing are a pair of 1,000-point scorers, Tyler Thornton (Duke) and Cedrick Lindsay (Richmond), and Malcolm Lemmons (Robert Morris).

The Purple Eagles (28-7), who won their third consecutive Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament, return two starters and a pair of freshmen who are already getting interest from high majors.

"They're already generating a buzz around here," Turner said, referring to Kris Jenkins and Nate Britt, who both fared well in their high school debuts.

Both play for D.C. Assault on the summer circuit.

Jenkins, a 6-6 multidimensional forward, contributed 9.8 points and 8.0 rebounds.

"Kris can score on the blocks, handle like a point guard and has a good jump shot," Turner said. "He'll become our go-to guy on offense."

Britt, a 6-0 point guard, went head-to-head daily against Thornton and will assume floor-general responsibilities. Britt played more than 16 minutes per game and hit the game-winning shot against Orange (Calif.) Lutheran at the Iolani Classic in Honolulu in December.

Jenkins says he has four offers and "lots of mail." His most notable offers are from Notre Dame, Hofstra and Miami.

The freshman duo attended Friday's NHSI, hoping the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference membership will allow teams to participate in 2011.

Turner is equally thrilled to see two juniors, 6-0 Cahli Thomas and 6-8 Oliver Ellison, back in the fold.

Thomas will end up at a low Division I school; MEAC schools have shown the most interest, along with UMBC.

"Cahli is the glue; he does all the intangibles from guarding the opponent's top scorer guard to making the big shot," Turner said.

Ellison is the enforcer in the middle, having averaged 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.

"He changes shots and scores mainly on putbacks. Guys like Oliver are immeasurable," Turner said.

Ellison, who scored well on his standardized tests, is receiving the most attention from George Washington and Northeastern, with the Ivies close behind.

Ellison and Thomas are expected to play for Team Takeover this summer.

Gonzaga's next young sensation is incoming freshman Jordan Abdur-Ra'oof; a 6-6 forward is tearing up the CYO circuit. Long-range shooter Will Rassman, 6-7, is attracting interest from several mid-majors.

Save the date

Doron Lamb NHSI
Doron Lamb's list includes Kansas, Kentucky and West Virginia, among others.

For those interested, circle April 17 on the calendar; that's the day Doron Lamb (No. 25 in the ESPNU 100) will announce his college decision.

"He's drawn this one out a while; it's about time he made up his mind," cracked Oak Hill Academy coach Steve Smith.

Lamb closed out his Oak Hill career Thursday with a first-round loss at the NHSI to Mountain State Academy (Beckley, W.Va.), 59-53. He finished with 20 points, making eight of 15 shots and four of eight 3-pointers, but lacked the usual spring in his legs.

Lamb played in the McDonald's High School All-America Game on Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio, and admitted that the whirlwind experience hampered him against MSA.

"My legs were gone by the third quarter," he said.

Lamb, a 6-4 guard, also said his next senior all-star game, the Jordan Brand Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York, will be special.

"I'll be announcing where I'm going to college. I wanted to do it in front of my family and friends. They've been supportive over years."

Lamb, who attended Bishop Loughlin High in Brooklyn, N.Y., before transferring to Oak Hill, calls the Laurelton section of Queens his home.

In two years under Smith's tutelage, Lamb has grown as a player.

"Even Doron will tell you he was lazy when he came here," Smith said. "He didn't lift weights and now you can't get him out of the room. His best days are ahead; he's a big-time player now."

Lamb, who shot 52.6 percent from the floor and averaged 22.5 points this season, is a polished offensive threat. His shot drops in more consistently and his strength has increased since he enrolled at the rural boarding school in southwestern Virginia.

For schools such as Oklahoma, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky and Connecticut, April 17 can't come soon enough.

Before pulling the trigger, Lamb will confer with his parents.

"I have no idea where I'm going," Lamb said. "It's important that the school needs me to play right away, [and that] I have the respect of the players and play for a respected coach who will get me ready for the NBA."

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today.