Austin Rivers is 20 years old. He’s a rookie. He’s ready to lead.
“It doesn’t matter what age, in my opinion,” Rivers said. “I think it all starts with showing by example. You can be 17, 18, 26, 30, if you show by example and you go out there and give effort and work hard and you lead, I think naturally you’ll be a leader.
“That’s one thing I’ve got to do.”
Rivers’ pedigree screams natural born leader. So does his demeanor. The 10th selection in the NBA Draft by the New Orleans Hornets is dripping with confidence that’s mistaken in some circles as cockiness. He’s polished and media-savvy.
But what else would you expect from the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers? Austin has been around the game his entire life. He’s been groomed for this. This is no ordinary rook.
“Austin has a foundation and experience that most guys don’t have,” said Hornets coach Monty Williams, a longtime friend of the elder Rivers. “At the same time, what you’ve seen from afar and what you’re going to deal with are two different things. He knows a little bit, but he still doesn’t know.
“Of all the guys that we’ve had, he’s probably had the biggest target on his back. When your dad coaches in the NBA and has had that kind of success, you tend to get unmerited negative attention. I think the way he’s been treated has been unfair, but that’s just part of being a Rivers.”
The target focused on Austin dwarfs that of fellow rookie/No. 1 pick/gold-medal Olympian Anthony Davis. Rivers, who averaged 15.5 points per game last season for Duke, dealt with that in high school, with the Blue Devils and will now in the NBA.
The criticism is going to come on good and bad nights. If Rivers excels, it’s because he’s supposed to. When he struggles – and that’s going to happen for all rookies – he’s going to hear it loud.
Williams wants that venom to fuel Rivers.
“When you’re a competitor like him, I hope it doesn’t roll off his back,” Williams said. “I hope it sticks. And when you’re like him, I’m sure he keeps more internally than he’s willing to let on. The good ones do.
“They read newspapers, they read all that stuff. They’re lying if they say they don’t. They read all that because they’re always looking for some kind of motivation and I’m sure he’s heard all the stuff that people have said about him.”
Doc Rivers didn’t map out a basketball life for Austin or his older brother Jeremiah Rivers, who plays overseas. Dad just wanted success for his children.
“He’s really never pushed us to be basketball players,” Austin said. “He’s always told us do what you want to do, but whatever you do, you have to do it the Rivers’ way. And that’s to put you’re all into it. That’s basically what we’ve done.”
Austin does have an expert sounding board few will ever enjoy. It’s nice to have your own personal Doctor.
“Everything I want to do, he’s been there and done that,” Austin said of his father. “I want to do even more. Everything I have and anything I’m questioning … my dad will always be someone I can talk to as well.”
Austin arrives in the Big Easy counted on to be one of the main catalysts, along with Davis, in turning around the Hornets. Rivers wants the pressure as much as he wants the ball in his hands.
“He’s got such a passion to be good,” Williams said. “He cares so much about his career and the team that he’s going to adapt to the situation better than most guys.”
But there is a difference in believing you can lead an NBA team and actually doing it. Rivers has seen plenty of locker room speeches. He’s witnessed stars rip into teammates when it’s needed.
A leader gets people to respond, to lift their performance and buy in, and that’s what Rivers expects to be.
“I’m trying to build my own and it starts here,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of hard work and you’re going to go through obstacles and not everything is going to go great. You’re not going to win every game. You’re not going to play great every game. You’re not going to shoot [well] every game.
“I understand that. I think that’s where growing up in a basketball family I have a better understanding of that because I’ve seen it firsthand. I’ve witnessed my dad coach a losing team and keep going and keep fighting, and now he’s a champion. I know what it takes.”