CHICAGO — I just realized who Duke freshman Austin Rivers resembles. Hear me out before disagreeing.
He reminds me of ex-Charlotte Bobcat Stephen Jackson. I don’t mean Rivers will ever run into the stands to confront a fan or fire a handgun to disperse a crowd the way Jackson did.
But they’re the same in that they’re mavericks: Smart, edgy guys who excel in part because they’re wired to occasionally challenge authority.
You hear that word constantly to describe Rivers, who turned pro after one season as a Blue Devil. He’s cocky the way Manute Bol was tall. Rivers and those around him – specifically his father, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers – embrace the kid’s cockiness and dismiss the notion that it’s over the top.
“I’ve yet to meet a great player who was un-cocky,” Rivers told me during a conference call last week. “Un-cocky Dwyane Wade? Un-cocky LeBron? Un-cocky Ray (Allen)?”
Doc describes his son as a “driven, determined player and every coach he’s played for has loved that.” Then he added, “He occasionally gets frustrated, just like I did.”
Perhaps that’s a dad talking, but in 20-some years around Doc, I’ve known him to be candid and honest. He believes in Austin’s approach.
I haven’t spent a ton of time around Austin. I covered the Duke-Ohio State game and chatted with him here at the pre-draft combine. Both interviews revealed a guy who has little to no filter (yeah, Stephen Jackson). This is not standard procedure for the Blue Devils, particularly not for a freshman.
At first I wondered why Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t make sure Rivers toned it down. Then it became apparent that the Blue Devils’ best chance last season was letting Austin be Austin. That game-winner against North Carolina validated him and I took it for granted he’d leave after one season.
As Doc has said repeatedly, Austin’s mentality has always been that of a pro because it’s the culture in which he was raised.
I think his game fits better in the NBA. There were complaints last season he took over too much, often dominating the ball. But his frenetic energy and herky-jerky drives to the rim are what an NBA team needs when the 24-second shot clock is expiring.
It isn’t selfish if you can pull it off, Jackson might chime in.
Austin Rivers insists his vibe isn’t selfish or self-centered.
“You have to have an ego. Just make sure it’s a healthy ego,” Rivers said Thursday. “You don’t want to have an arrogance that affects your team, and that’s something I’ve never had.
“On the court I’m confident in myself and my team where I feel we can do anything.”
True that, Jackson would reply.