After a freshman season in which he provided Duke with its most enduring memory of the year, Austin Rivers announced Monday that he will hire an agent and enter the 2012 NBA draft.
“I would like to thank the coaches, my teammates and the fans for helping make this past year at Duke so special,” Rivers said in a release provided by Duke. “Coach K and the rest of the staff really helped me develop and improve in all areas of the game.
“It was a difficult decision to leave Duke, but I am excited about chasing my dream of playing in the NBA.”
With his cross-over and impressive hesitation move, Rivers was the Blue Devils’ most adept player at creating his own shot. He averaged 15.5 points per game, becoming only the third Duke freshman to lead the team in scoring. Along the way, Rivers impressed enough to be a unanimous pick for ACC freshman of the year.
When the Blue Devils’ players, coaches and fans think back on an uneven season that included a loss to Lehigh in Duke's first NCAA tournament game, Rivers’ 3-pointer over Tyler Zeller to give Duke a win at North Carolina on Feb. 8 will likely be one of the first things that comes to mind. Rivers hit six 3-pointers in the game and scored 29 points.
Afterward, Rivers called it the best day of his life.
“Austin (Rivers) had a terrific year as a freshman and has put himself in a position to pursue his dream of being a great player in the NBA,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in the release. “He is an outstanding young man with an even more impressive family. We are in total support of Austin, his family and the decision.
“We look forward to watching him continue to develop and excel at the next level.”
Before Rivers announced his decision Monday afternoon, Doc Rivers – who coaches for the NBA’s Boston Celtics – said that he thought Rivers' ability to score off the dribble and get to the rim would translate to the NBA. Doc Rivers said that was a skill Rivers consciously tried to develop this season to prepare him for the pros.
Doc Rivers also indicated that his son was torn about his decision.
“If it wasn’t for Coach K, it would be easier for him (to turn professional),” Doc Rivers said.
In the end, the allure of the NBA game was too much.
Rivers said more than once this season that he couldn’t wait to play professionally. When asked early in the season if Duke’s rigorous travel schedule was taxing, Rivers said that he enjoyed it because it seemed just like the NBA.
Doc Rivers said his son’s heart has always been connected to the NBA “because that’s what he’s been around; he’s seen it.”
Before his performance at UNC, Rivers said the thought of playing professionally was one of the things that motivated him.
“People always ask what makes me hungry now – I haven’t done anything yet,” Rivers said at the time. “I had a great high school career; I was No. 1. I don’t care. No one cares about that any more. At Duke, I haven’t won a national championship; I haven’t won an ACC tournament.
“I don’t play in the NBA. I haven’t done anything. I have everything that can motivate me.”
While Rivers ultimately didn’t accomplish the first two goals, he thinks his time in Durham will be advantageous when he gets to the NBA.
“Duke has prepared me for the challenges that are ahead both on and off the court,” Rivers said in the release. “I have learned so much from the coaching staff and my teammates that will help me succeed at the next level.”
Most projections have Rivers landing somewhere between picks 10-20 of the draft, although that is subject to change based on workouts and who enters the draft.
Doc Rivers said that despite his connections around the NBA, he isn’t sure other teams were candid with him in projecting Austin’s pro potential. As Rivers described it, it was an awkward situation being simultaneously the father of a draft prospect and the coach of a franchise.
“Team that really want him,” Doc Rivers said, “don’t want (the Celtics) to know.”
Without Rivers, Duke will need Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins and incoming freshman Rasheed Sulaimon to carry much of the scoring load on the perimeter.
Rivers will be watching from afar.
“It was so fun playing there and becoming a part of the Duke family,” Rivers said on his Twitter account.