Austin Rivers battling through tough rookie season … with help from Doc
It was a surreal moment for the Rivers family.
In one room, Austin Rivers was fielding questions to a room chock-full of reporters.
In the hallway just outside of that room, his father, Doc Rivers was fielding questions of his own – mostly about the kid inside the room.
This was a long time coming. Austin was one of the top-ranked high school players. Then came Duke, the NBA Draft, and the New Orleans Hornets at No. 10.
Finally, Jan. 16, 2013 came. Doc Rivers and the top-seeded Celtics would take on Rookie of the Year frontrunner Austin Rivers and the Hornets.
Not exactly. While the Celtics have found some life as of late, they’ve got plenty of issues. And “issues” don’t even begin to describe what Austin has been going through on the court this season.
It’s times like now that he needs his father more than ever – and he’s gotten him – except for before Wednesday’s game anyways.
“I talk to him just about every day, or every other day, and we have been talking the past couple,” Austin said before his Hornets took down his father’s Celtics, 90-78. “You know, I haven’t really been playing well and haven’t played my best the past four or five games, so I just got to, the main thing [is] I got to go out there and play my game and be confident in myself. When you go out there and try to do things you’ve never done before, ever, it’s not gonna work for you, especially in this league.”
Austin scored eight points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field in 26 minutes. That may not seem like much, but when you consider he scored just one point over his previous five games, it’s progress. His three made field goals matched the total of the last nine games (3-of-26 previously).
You would think a slump like that would be enough to make a rookie want to run and hide. Not this rookie though. Austin’s head coach Monty Williams said he’s glad he’s coaching Austin, because the kid has so much confidence he’s not sure other coaches would know how to deal with it. Austin himself will tell you that his confidence has helped him through the rough stretch.
“It has [helped] because I think where most cases, or you’ve seen a lot of guys, rookies, especially our class this year, everyone’s been so up and down,” he said. “There’s guys that I’ve known my whole life that don’t look the same, people with their heads down, and I think I’ve been a culprit as well – in games where I’ve had my head down. And that’s never been me. You got to stay up and stay confident and believe in yourself, because to be truthful, confidence for me is a huge part of my game, and I think everyone knows that. I’ve gotten here, obviously off of my hard work and support behind me, but my confidence has always been just steady no matter how good or bad I play, I always believe in myself.”
A player on the other side of the court was drafted with the No. 10 pick too – back in 1998. Paul Pierce slid to the Celtics that year, but that didn’t bring him down – and being drafted 10th never should. Like Austin, Pierce had the luxury of competing against NBA players before he was in the league. That had an impact on his mindset out on the court.
“I think [confidence] is one of the most important traits you got to have to be a player in this league,” Pierce told Metro. “I think I came in with tremendous confidence. You know, you can’t really get discouraged. I got drafted with the No. 10 pick; I thought I was going to be a higher pick. I used that to motivate me, it didn’t waver for my confidence though. I think that’s one of the biggest tools you got to have in this league. It’s everything on top of your work ethic.”
And there is no questioning Austin’s work ethic, either. But in a world where highly touted athletes are scrutinized from top to bottom, he has a big hill to climb.
Being a former basketball player himself, Doc can help guide his son in some aspects of the game and life as a pro basketball player. But there’s no comparison of Doc’s rookie year (1983-84) to Austin’s.
“I think it’s harder now than it was when we played,” Doc told Metro. “We just played basketball. We didn’t have any other responsibility besides carrying luggage and traveling commercial. But I just think there’s just more pressure, there’s more stuff, there’s just so much about all the guys, not just Austin, but Anthony [Davis]. I don’t think half the world knew my name. I just had to go play basketball. Now it’s just more stuff, and I think it’s just much harder.”
There’s undoubtedly a lot more involved in being a rookie these days, but playing good consistent basketball when given the opportunity is still at the core. Once Austin starts doing that, the rest should fall into place.