Remember when Austin Rivers came to Duke? Even by basketball standards, he was really cocky. And why not?
He had a huge rep coming out of high school. His dad was an NBA coach. He hit the greatest shot in the history of the legendary Duke-UNC rivalry. He was the #10 pick in the 2012 draft.
And then things kind of changed.
He didn't thrive with the Pelicans and took a fair amount of abuse from fans and the media when he didn't light the league on fire.
Then he was traded to his dad’s team, the LA Clippers, and that didn’t really impress a lot of people, some of whom thought his father was bailing him out.
But he became a valuable player for the Clippers and gradually began to carve a niche out as a solid guard and defender, something that probably amazed his Duke teammates.
He’s had some up and down times in the league. Last year his time with the Knicks was a train wreck and he ended up with the Nuggets, where his maturity and hard work helped carve out a nice role.
Now he’s something of an elder statesman and he’s looking out for his teammates, in this case, NBA MVP Nikola Jokic.
Check out what Rivers posted on Instagram about his teammate: “The mvp doesn’t get a Christmas game,” Rivers wrote. “Yup that makes a lot of sense.”
It’s been an interesting journey and Rivers spoke about it somewhat earlier this year, discussing his path and struggles and how it helped him to mature:
“As a player, I’ll be honest. In the past, like all of us do, you want to do well. You want to be this. You want to be that guy. I was that guy in high school. I wanted to be an All-Star. I still feel like I’m good enough to be that, but, like, that’s not my role here,” Rivers said.
“My role here is to be aggressive, and, obviously, I can have big nights like tonight. … I plan on having many more, but we’ve got an MVP here. … So you support that guy. We’ve got Michael, who is upcoming, and you support that guy. So I go in there, and I do my thing and I play hard, but whether I play, or whatever platform I’m on, or if I’m in the game (or) out of the game, I’m nothing but positive energy, man. That’s all I’m trying to bring to this team every game. Like I said, when you’re not playing for two months and something’s taken from you, it changed me, and I had to look in the mirror and say ‘OK, well, there’s things I still have to change.’ It’s not all New York’s fault or this (person’s) fault or this (person’s) fault. I have to do better, so I’m working on that every day.”
In a sense, it’s one of the better Duke stories to come along in quite some time.