Austin Rivers a Chip Off the Old Doc
"Dad, why don't they switch to zone defense?'' Austin started.
"Dad, why do they keep running that pick-and-roll play?'' he asked two minutes later.
"Dad, why aren't they boxing out,'' he continued.
"Dad, why can't I play on this team?'' he persisted.
Father Doc Rivers, head coach of the Orlando Magic at the time (2000), was watching closely like every other parent at the game. He turned to his younger son and smiled, both a little surprised and amused by the inquisitive and precocious basketball mind sitting next to him.
"Good questions,'' Doc said, then turned back to the game. "You'll get your turn.''
Ten years later, Doc is back in the bleachers, this time at Disney's Wide World of Sports, watching Austin dominating the AAU Super Showcase Gold Division play, proud as any father could be, but still a little amazed at what he has seen.
Doc is coach of the Boston Celtics, having won an NBA championship in 2008. Austin, going into his senior year at Winter Park High, is one of the top-rated college prospects in America, preparing now to choose between Duke, North Carolina, Florida, Kansas and Kentucky for where he will attend school and play college basketball.
"Austin wanted to be good from a very early age,'' Rivers said. "I don't coach him, though. These kids today get too much coaching, already. I just parent him. I still remember he'd come to the games with me, and all the other little kids, the brothers and sisters, would be running around, under the grandstands, being kids. And Austin just sat there and watched with me – studying the game, asking questions.''
Austin Rivers today is a 6-foot-4, 175-pound point guard with a feel for the game that is well beyond his years, playing with the maturity and intelligence of a coach's son, but with talents that usually don't come in that same package.
He is more physically gifted than his father ever was, and his father was a pretty good point guard, playing 13 years in the NBA before retiring in 1996.
Although Doc Rivers never has coached his son's youth teams, it's realistic now to think he might coach him someday in the NBA, becoming the first father/son, coach/player relationship in a regular season game. That's if the Karls (George and Coby) don't do it first.
Austin plays with his father's point guard mentality, but he is much quicker with the ball and a much better outside shooter. He finishes at the basket like Doc never could. His crossover move is NBA ready now, which is why he will have his pick of the best college basketball programs in the country.
Coaches Roy Willams, Mike Krzyzewski and Billy Donovan all have come to see him play personally, returning home with rave reviews. Both ESPNU and Hoop Scoop have Rivers rated as the No. 2 high school prospect in America, behind only Michael Gilchrist of New Jersey. As part of the AAU Showcase event last weekend, a special game was scheduled for his Each 1 Teach 1 AAU team so it could be televised live.
"He's handled all the attention pretty well because he understands, at this point, all he is, is a good high school player. He knows no matter how good he is, there is more to achieve, and that there's always this (his father and his name),'' Doc said. "That's a chip he carries on his shoulder that's good. He wants to be his own man, and that drives him.''
Austin is much like his father, personable and approachable, finding time to please most everyone around him. He is likable, too. While Doc spent considerable time after each AAU game at Disney posing for pictures with kids and adults, Austin waited patiently for a ride home, joking and laughing with those around him.
Between two games Saturday, Austin and three of his teammates went to lunch with Doc. The topic of conversation on the ride there wasn't basketball, it was burgers or subs, pasta or chicken, Big Macs or Big Bufords.
During the games last weekend, Doc sat quietly on the sideline, quieter than most of the parents, hands in his lap, showing little very emotion. He could have been watching a movie, only occasionally offering a few words of encouragement, a direct contrast to the way he works in Boston. He leaves the coaching of Austin to the coaches on the sideline. As much as he loves coaching, he loves being the parent just as much.
"People ask me all the time about our relationship, but it's probably like any other father-son relationship,'' Austin said. "He'll give me some pointers on the way home – if I ask. At the end of the day, he comes home, and he's just my dad. I think he'd rather talk the parent stuff.''
When he plays, Austin almost always has a target on his back. Opponents and those watching know he is not only the best player on his team, but also the son of the Boston Celtics coach.
"Him being my dad, it's an advantage, if anything. People come at me hard, but it's been that way all my life,'' Austin said. "It makes it more interesting, more fun. It only makes me work harder. I guess it motivates me even more.''
Motivation never has been a problem with Austin, who is a basketball junkie. Since he was 10, he has collected tapes of NBA games, watching them over and over to study his favorite players, the how's and why's of their games. He got tapes of every Miami Heat game last season, just so he could study Dwyane Wade, his favorite player.
He has spent most every day this summer – when he didn't have a game or wasn't traveling to one – at Division II Rollins College, which is close to his parents home. He has the keys to the gym there.
It was Rollins coach Tom Klusman, who has watched him play there for years with his college players, who first told Doc just how special he thought Austin would become.
"Tom told me that when he was in the sixth grade, and I was like 'come on, you can't tell that.' But he knew,'' Doc said. "He's still a young kid, but there's a maturity about his game.''
It was Austin and his siblings, Jeremiah (senior basketball player at Indiana), Callie (senior volleyball player at Florida) and Spencer (freshman at Winter Park High) who convinced their father last month to return to the Celtics for another season, knowing he was seriously thinking about stepping away to see his children play.
It didn't hurt that Doc was promised the use of a private jet owned by the Celtics to fly back and forth from Boston on off-days to see any of his children play big games.
"I think as a father, it bothers Glenn (Doc) to miss so many games during his season,'' said Therion Joseph, coach of Austin's AAU team. "But he also knows that Austin wants to be his own person, too. I know Austin hates it when someone who doesn't know him, says he got something, whether it's a call, or a camp invite or whatever, because of his father. But that's usually the furthest thing from the truth. He doesn't need any help.''
There have been times when Austin's friends were going to see NBA games in Orlando, and Austin turned them down because he wanted to practice, at home or at Rollins. Although he has spent time in NBA locker rooms over the years, chatting with stars, he also passed up tickets last season to see the Celtics play in Orlando.
"He treats his dad like a dad, not an NBA coach,'' Joseph said. "And he hates it sometimes when his dad tries to give him advice. I've heard him say, like any teenager, 'It's my life.' "
Joseph has known the Rivers family for years. He coached Austin's first team in Winter Park when he was 8 years old. And he wasn't always the best player on the team. There were times when he was riding the bench.
"I have a pretty good basketball IQ,'' Austin said. "I study the game. I'll watch a Celtics game on television, and then call up my father afterward, asking him questions about why they did certain things. I think he likes that.''