Duke's Austin Rivers is unafraid to fail

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 25, 2012 - 12:44 PM

The self-assured son of the Celtics coach could help fill the Timberwolves' most glaring need: a shooting guard.

Confident or cocky, Austin Rivers probably is plenty of both, befitting a guy who attended Duke for one season and who is the son of a famed NBA coach.

Now it's up to pro scouts to determine if he is more one than the other and just how soon -- or how late -- in Thursday's NBA draft his self-assurance, talent and competitiveness justify selection.

The son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, he could go as high as eighth to Toronto, the second or third shooting guard taken among a group that is the Timberwolves' most obvious area of need.

The Wolves own Thursday's 18th overall pick, a position that will leave them waiting to see if Rivers or Washington's Terrence Ross drop that far on a night when Florida's Bradley Beal, Syracuse's Dion Waiters and possibly Connecticut's Jeremy Lamb are expected to be the first shooting guards taken.

That is, if the Wolves don't swap that pick in a trade for a veteran.

They would prefer to add an older, experienced player to a team that coach Rick Adelman deemed too young last season. But if they can't -- and if the stars align -- the next best thing could be a 19-year-old who has been around the NBA all of his life.

"All the great players in the NBA feel they're there for a reason and they're better than everybody else," Rivers said. "You look at Kobe and those guys, they feel like they're better than the other guy. I've watched them my whole life, and I think that's where I get it from. You should feel like you're the best one out there, whether you are or not."

NBA scouts are asking themselves not just if Rivers has patterned his game after a league MVP and five-time NBA champion but whether, after just one college season, he might think he is Kobe Bryant.

"That's the perception I get, people say I'm cocky," Rivers said. "I think all great players are cocky. You have to be. You just have to make sure it's a healthy ego. You don't want to have an arrogance that affects a team. That's not something I've ever had.

"Every team I've played for, we've always had a confidence. I'm not saying it's because of me, but my ego and my confidence have always rubbed off on other people in a positive way. I feel we can do anything."

Rivers calls himself a "very competitive player who wants to do everything he can to help his team win immediately."

His father laughs when it's suggested that Austin Rivers' competitiveness and cockiness is a bad thing.

"In a crazy way, I've actually heard people knock that, which blows my mind," said Doc Rivers, who played 13 NBA seasons and has been a head coach with Orlando and Boston for 12-plus seasons. "Why would you ever knock a guy who's competitive? I even heard he's cocky. I've yet to meet the un-cocky Dwyane Wade or the un-cocky LeBron [James] or the un-cocky Ray [Allen] or the un-cocky Paul [Pierce]. Those are the things that blow my mind when I hear negatives about him.

"He's a competitive guy. He wants to win. He wants to be the best. That's what you want."

Like father, like son?

"I don't think it's much different," Doc Rivers said. "He's a driven, determined player. To coach him, you would love to have him. Every coach that had him has loved that. He's just ... he wants to win. He gets frustrated at time, just like I did as a player, when things aren't going right for the team. But he is as competitive a player as you'll ever get."

Austin Rivers is a 6-5 guard in whose hands Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski placed the ball last season, but he is projected as an NBA shooting guard even though he says he can play both guard positions. A deft long-range shooter with a wicked crossover-dribble move, he missed a game-winning shot against Miami (Fla.) last February and then came back two days later and made a long three at the buzzer to beat North Carolina in a seismic game at Chapel Hill.

"One thing my whole life is, I've never been afraid to fail," he said. "That happens in sports. You can't be afraid to fail. My dad has always preached that. At the end of the day, basketball is something I've played my whole life. It's a game. I have fun. I take it very seriously, but I understand there's always tomorrow, and I learn from my mistakes. I haven't been perfect in my career. I've had a lot of ups and downs. You take the downs and you learn from 'em and you flush 'em. That's what I try to do."

Rivers calls himself an "aggressive" and "coachable" player who mentions Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose and Deron Williams -- not Kobe Bryant -- when he envisions himself in the NBA.

"Point guards, shooting guards, they're both," Rivers said.

"Most importantly, those guys win. That's what I'm trying to do, just be a winner. Things change when you make it to the big league, but your game doesn't too much as far as who you are as a player. I'll learn new things and I'll get better and my game will change and evolve, but I'm still going to remain an aggressive player."

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