Keep talking...It's only making Rivers better
This story appeared in the Central Florida edition of the December ESPN RISE Magazine.
You have to understand, the pros are never serious when it comes to games like this.
Austin Rivers is taking on Paul Pierce during some downtime at the Boston Celtics' practice facility in Waltham, Mass. Just a friendly one-on-one between coach Doc Rivers' captain, Pierce -- the seven-time All-Star, the 2008 Finals MVP, The Truth -- and Doc's son, Austin.
Austin hits a couple shots. Pierce returns the favor. Remember, the pros are never serious about this. There's not much of a crowd anyway; most of the players are in the weight room. Nothing to see here.
"I was just doing step-backs, really," recalls Austin, who was giving up about four inches and 50 pounds at the time. "Just shooting jump shots."
His size notwithstanding, Austin goes up 4-2 in the first-to-five matchup. Pierce, who has built a Hall of Fame career with his plodding, effective drives and crunch-time heroics, is suddenly& serious.
He starts taking the youngster to the rack, and Austin -- just a high school sophomore at the time -- is powerless to do anything about it. Pierce prevails, 5-4. When asked to recount some of his career highlights to date, Austin doesn't offer this one up. But his dad does.
"Austin was pissed that he lost, mad that he couldn't stop Paul," Doc says.
Pierce told Doc: "He's no fun to guard."
Doc told Austin: "He never said anything about your defense."
Hey, The Truth hurts. Austin walked away from the experience with a clearer vision of what he needed to do to fulfill his goal of becoming a professional basketball player. But for all of their differences in build, game and experience, Doc also noticed a similarity: When it's late in the contest and everyone else is getting frenzied, Austin and Pierce slow things down.
It's one of the reasons Austin, a 6-foot-4, 191-pound guard, is rated the nation's No. 2 junior in the ESPNU Super 60. He led Winter Park (Winter Park, Fla.) to the regional semifinals and the state semis, respectively, in his first two varsity campaigns and is on pace to become the school's all-time leading scorer this season.
Austin, who committed to Florida as a freshman, wants to go deeper into the playoffs this year, even though he knows his team -- which started the season ranked No. 41 nationally in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 -- won't be taking anyone by surprise. He wants a title. And he's serious about it.
"I'm looking forward to a state championship, those are my expectations," says Austin. "At the end of the day, you got a bull's-eye on your back. We got to be ready to play."
Austin and Winter Park were sure ready to play during the City of Palms Classic last December. The Wildcats entered the prestigious Fort Myers tournament as decided underdogs, but coach David Bailey's team proceeded to knock off Duncanville (Duncanville, Texas), the preseason No. 1 team in the country last year, as well as national powerhouses Westchester (Los Angeles, Calif.) and Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) en route to a third-place finish.
In the third-place game, which was televised on ESPNU, Austin went off for 46 points on 15-of-22 shooting. The sophomore sensation was named MVP of a tournament that included seven McDonald's All-Americans.
"You'd be hard-pressed to find that, especially with a guard," says Bailey. "That game kind of put him on the map."
The truth is that Austin Rivers has been on the national radar for some time, thanks in no small part to a famous father and an older brother, Jeremiah, who was a standout at Winter Park before moving on to play at Georgetown and now Indiana.
Since he was 9, Austin has heard nasty things dished his family's way from players, crowds, even opposing coaches. Stuff about his dad. Stuff about his brothers, Jeremiah and Spencer. Stuff about his mom, Kris. Stuff about his sister, Callie, now a star volleyball player at Florida. Even stuff about the Celtics, who, to be real about it, aren't even Austin's favorite team (sorry, Dad).
The bigger the game, the louder -- and meaner -- the jeers get.
"It seems like the crazier they get on him, the better it makes him," says Doc.
Austin takes it all in stride.
"It's funny, and it just makes me more mad and more competitive," he says. "One game, one of the kids yelled, 'The only thing Riverses are good at is coaching.' I didn't take offense, I just smiled."
In fairness, that might be just about the weakest diss ever hurled on a basketball court. But Austin knows it all comes with the territory. On the court, everyone wants a piece. First it was because he was Doc's son. Then it was because he was considered one of the nation's best players himself. Instead of begrudging it, he relishes the challenge.
"Everybody's saying you're the best, (so) you gotta prove you're the best," he says. "Every game you play, they're going to try to make a name for themselves by coming at me. It makes the games more competitive. I love it."
For Austin, the next step toward becoming the best is improving as a defender. Jeremiah earned a reputation as a defensive stopper off the bench in two seasons at Georgetown. And anyone who follows the NBA knows the emphasis Doc places on defense. Just look at his snide comment about Austin's defense on Pierce.
"[Jeremiah is] the best defender I've played against in my life," Austin says. "That's what I want to be this year for my high school team."
Over the summer, Austin worked out three days a week with his AAU coach and did his own regimen the other four. Sundays meant pick-up games with his high school teammates. He hit the weights, too, adding some bulk to his wiry frame.
"He doesn't think that anything should be given to him," Bailey says. "He works harder than everybody else."
All of this came in addition to near-constant AAU play. Austin led his Each 1 Teach 1 team to the AAU Super Showcase Finals, and later played in the Boost Mobile Elite 24 in New York City in August. If it were up to him, he'd play every day. During the Celtics' run to the NBA title in 2008, Austin -- unlike his siblings -- caught only the decisive Game 6 in person. Even then, he wanted to leave right afterward.
"The concession was they left immediately after the (championship) parade so he could get to his AAU games," Doc says. "Austin really doesn't like going to my games because he can't play."
He'll come to a practice, though. Especially for another shot at The Truth.
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