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Nation's top prep Austin Rivers makes first, but not last, trip to the United Center

The nation’s top prep player, Austin Rivers, will be among those to compete in the 34th annual McDonald’s All American Game on March 30 in Chicago

“I see my dad as a normal man, just like I see any of these other dudes,” said Austin Rivers of his father, Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “They put on their sneakers just like I do. Yes, he has a special job, but at the end of the day, he comes home and he’s my father.” (Photo courtesy of McDonald’s All American Games)

>> United Center hosting McDonald's All American Games on March 30, 2011

By Adam Fluck | 03.16.2011

Austin Rivers, the top high school player in the country, was in Chicago on Tuesday to accept the Morgan Wootten Player of the Year Award.

“It means a lot to me,” said Rivers, who was also named the 2011 Naismith National High School Basketball Player of the Year. “It just shows that hard work pays off. I’ve been dreaming about moments like these since I was a kid and I’ve just got to keep working. I’ve got a lot to improve on as a person and as a player.”

Austin Rivers
Rivers was a member of the 2010 USA U18 National Team that compiled a 5-0 record and captured the 2010 FIBA Americas U18 Championship gold medal. He started all five games and averaged team-bests of 20.2 ppg and 2.0 spg.
(Ross Davis / San Antonio Sports)

The 6-4, 189-pound son of Celtics coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers also made his first visit to the United Center, where he took in the Bulls’ 98-79 victory over the Washington Wizards.

While the younger Rivers intended on catching up with Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau before the game, hitting the media circuit downtown prevented that from happening. As with several other NBA coaches and players, Rivers has gotten to know Thibodeau through his father.

“He’s a great guy and a great coach as you can see,” Rivers said of Thibodeau. “He’s probably the coach of the year. I know him as a friend. He was close with my dad, obviously, so I got to meet him and we developed a relationship. Every time I see him, we talk for a little bit.”

Had they spoken this time around, Rivers perhaps could have filled Thibodeau in on capping off his high school playing career with a second consecutive state championship. Playing for Winter Park High School, Rivers scored 25 points and had 11 rebounds as his team claimed the Florida Class 6A title on March 5.

“I’ll look back at it with a smile on my face,” said Rivers on how he’ll remember a high school career in which he scored nearly 3,000 points. “It was fun and I had a great time. I won two state championships and achieved a lot, but also had a lot of great experiences with my friends.”

For some, growing up in a basketball family such as his and rubbing elbows with NBA players at a young age might create some added pressure, but not for Rivers.

“Not at all,” said Rivers. “I see my dad as a normal man, just like I see any of these other dudes. They put on their sneakers just like I do. Yes, he has a special job, but at the end of the day, he comes home and he’s my father. He doesn’t come home with a whistle around his neck like I tell people. Instead, he’s telling me to clean my room and things like that.”

Austin Rivers
Rivers shot a blistering 21-of-35 (.600) from 3-point range during the 2010 FIBA Americas U18 Championship tournament, including hitting his first nine 3-point attempts in the USA's 122-89 victory over Canada in which he finished with an all-time USA U18 National Team record 35 points.
(Ross Davis / San Antonio Sports)

The next chapter of Rivers’ career will take him to Durham, North Carolina, where he’ll attend Duke University in the fall. While he more or less had his pick of college basketball’s elite programs, it was Mike Krzyzewski who ultimately convinced him to join the Blue Devils.

“He believes in me and believes that I can be a great player,” Rivers said of Coach K. “That’s always nice when one of the greatest coaches believes that in you. He believes I’ll do big things there. They have confidence in me at Duke and the support base there is great.

“I feel like I’ll thrive in their offense,” added Rivers. “They like to get up and down and score the ball, and I can score the ball very well. They like to play defense too, which is something I actually like to do.”

With Duke boasting an overall record of 30-4 and set to begin yet another NCAA tournament with a top seed, playing time for Rivers as a freshman is far from a given. Joining him next year will be two fellow McDonald’s All Americans—guard Quinn Cook and forward/center Marshall Plumlee. But Rivers is confident he’ll see ample minutes.

“You’ve got to go in there and fight for your spot,” acknowledged Rivers. “There are no promises, but Coach K said that with my talent and hard work, I’ll be in there for most of the game. I’ve just got to keep working and earn my minutes.”

How easy those minutes are to come by could be predicated on whether or not freshman Kyrie Irving, who was averaging 17.4 points, 5.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game before injuring his big toe on Dec. 4, returns to campus or declares for the NBA draft.

“Right now, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do yet,” Rivers said of Irving, who could return to action as early as Duke’s first game in the NCAA tournament. “He has a lot to think about before he makes a decision. Either way, I’ll support him. He’s a great player and a friend of mine.”

Before his college career commences, though, Rivers will be back at the United Center to compete in the 2011 McDonald’s All American Basketball Game on March 30 (9:00 p.m. CT on ESPN). It was 31 years ago when his father played in the same game, making them only the second father/son duo in the event’s history behind Milt Wagner (1981) and Dajuan Wagner (2001).

Given what he saw during his trip to Chicago this week, he’s looking forward to that experience.

“Plus, I’ll have my jersey and shorts on then,” Rivers said. “I’m really looking forward to that.

“It’s a great building and the fans here love their team,” added Rivers of the United Center. “That’s always nice to have that support and it is one of the reasons I love Duke. The fans in Chicago support Derrick Rose and their team. If he keeps rolling like this, they have a chance.”

Austin Rivers
Also in this year’s McDonald’s All American Game are local products Branden Dawson (Lew Wallace in Gary, IN), Anthony Davis (Perspectives Charter in Chicago) and Wayne Blackshear (Morgan Park in Chicago), pictured above with Derrick Rose, a former McDonald’s All American.
(McDonald’s All American Games)

Though he’s never met or played against Rose, Rivers is a fan, and although his father may not approve, he enjoys Rose’s team too.

“I like the Bulls, actually,” said Rivers. “I’m a big Rose guy and think he is terrific.”

Chances are that Rivers’ time to compete against Rose will come eventually. He’s already played against the likes of John Wall and Brandon Jennings and held his own. And while he says knowing a lot of NBA types and being close to that scene doesn’t give him a big advantage, it does help in another area.

“It gives you confidence,” said Rivers. “I’ve played against some of the younger guys and I’ve carried my own. But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to go out there and play your game.”

On March 30 at the United Center, he’ll do just that. And it probably won’t be the last time the building sees him.

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