DURHAM — Even when Austin Rivers was making a name for himself as a Duke freshman, leading the Blue Devils in scoring and hitting a memorable game-winning 3-pointer at North Carolina, he never hid the fact the NBA shaped his basketball perspective.
With his father, Doc, enjoying a long playing career before becoming a successful coach with the Boston Celtics, Rivers was weaned on the professional game. Doc and Austin have said repeatedly that Rivers grew up wanting to play for the Knicks or the Celtics or the Hawks, not necessarily the Blue Devils.
After Dukes arduous early season travel last year from Hawaii to New York to Columbus, Ohio, Rivers was asked if he was looking forward to a couple days back in Durham to recuperate. He said he wasnt tired and actually enjoyed the travel because it reminded him of the NBA.
Rivers professional career will begin to take shape Thursday night when he hears his name called at the NBA draft in New York. He seems likely to be taken in the first 20 picks, and has been projected in some mock drafts to go much higher.
With his big moment almost upon him, Rivers said hes finding it hard to sleep. In a matter of months, hell be sharing the court with the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and his idol, Kobe Bryant.
My whole point of going to the NBA is because I want to compete at this level, he said Wednesday. I love the game of basketball. This is what Ive been doing since I was 6 years old. So my goal was to play at the highest level and compete at the highest level. And when I had that opportunity ahead of me, I just couldnt say no.
I talked to my mom, my dad, (Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski), and they all felt like I could compete. And they felt like I was ready. And if I didnt feel like I was ready, I wouldnt have come out. But its not about anything else fame, money, anything. I just wanted to play in the NBA and play against these guys.
Rivers averaged 15.5 points and made 36.5 percent of his 3-pointers at Duke. One shot will define his legacy his game-winning 3-pointer over North Carolinas Tyler Zeller at the Smith Center.
As easy as it was to daydream about the NBA last year, Rivers said he tried to stay in the moment.
Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didnt.
At the beginning of the year, I was so nervous because I wanted to impress, but toward the end of the year, I just started playing better and better and better because I just stopped thinking about it, he said. I just started thinking about winning and having fun in college.
While Rivers brief college career finished with a loss to Lehigh, he felt confident enough to leave after one season, becoming the second Blue Devils player to do so in as many years. Before Kyrie Irving did it in 2011, Luol Deng was Dukes lone one-and-done player.
Krzyzewski said last week the staff realized when it recruited Rivers the allure of the NBA likely would prove irresistible. They also recognized that Rivers had the skills to make the jump after one year.
Were proud of the fact that the kid is here for a year, especially if he can go pro and hes a lottery pick; hes a high pick, Krzyzewski said. Thats good for your program. You would hope that the guys that stay would be in position to be looked at in a favorable manner.
We feel real good about what both Austin and Miles (Plumlee) are doing in their workouts and whatll happen in the NBA draft with both of them.
Both reportedly had good workouts and moved up draft projections. Plumlee could go anywhere from the late first round to the early second.
Duke has produced multiple first-round picks in five other drafts, including last year, when Irving went No. 1 overall and Nolan Smith followed at No. 21.
A 6-foot-10 forward. Plumlee impressed scouts with his athleticism, posting the second-best vertical leap and fifth-best score in the agility drill in the pre-draft camp in Chicago, according to his father, Perky.
His athleticism appears to be only half the story in his rise, however.
The feedback were getting from general managers is that hes a basketball player, Perky said. The coaches at Duke work on a lot of stuff that might not show up on game night. They trained him well.
While some might look at Plumlees numbers from last season 6.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and question his future in the NBA, Krzyzewski thinks his game is transferable.
Basically hell be a complimentary player, like most of the guys in the NBA are complimentary players, Krzyzewski said. At 6-10, 6-11, 255, 260 hes an incredible athlete, and I think is still growing as a player.
But hell only be asked to do things that he does well he can run, he can play defense, he can rebound. He doesnt have to be a great shooter but he can physically play right away, and he can do the things that youd ask a complimentary player to do because he can run.
Kids in college get all caught up in how much theyre scoring or whatever. There are a few guys who will be picked to score. But most of them will be picked on how they play and how they complement the key players.
Staff writer Andrew Carter contributed to this report.