DURHAM — A few days after deciding to leave Duke to enter the NBA draft, freshman All-ACC guard Austin Rivers agreed to a 1-on-1 interview with Herald-Sun reporter Steve Wiseman.
Here are Rivers thoughts about his freshman season, both personally and as a team, and his plans for the future:
How did your year at Duke make you a better player and therefore better prepared for the NBA?
“I think the player I am now is a totally different player than the player that came in. I think, for one, I’m more mature as a person and a player. I can handle situations better. I just think I’m more mature as a person. As far as my body, I’m a lot stronger. I know more about the game. I can handle things on and off the court.
“As far as on the court stuff, I read the defense a lot better. My offensive skills have always been really, really good — improved those, too. But I think I can read the defense a lot better. On defense, I’m a really good on-the-ball defender. One thing I need to keep working on is my help side defense. Those are things that come with being young, but I think I’ve improved those things dramatically.”
Thinking of your off-court experiences at Duke, what did they mean to you? What will you remember?
“It was amazing. It’s a great school, and I had a great time there. I met a lot of people and made a lot of great friends. The interesting thing at Duke is the students are crazy there, crazy about basketball. They are the greatest fans. But, at the same time, off the court those same kids are doctors and lawyers going to Duke. They have got their own thing going. So off the court, they are real cool and nice and they treat you like anybody else. That’s the best thing about going to Duke.”
What were your emotions like in the days following the Lehigh loss? How did the grieving process go so that it allowed you to put that in your past and look to the NBA?
“That’s never easy to endure a loss like that. That was a tough loss to a team that we were better than. But they played us and they beat us. It was real frustrating. We had the tools to make big runs and we didn’t. After you lose like that, it’s never easy. At the same time, you have to move forward. After that, I had to work out and the time came for me to make a decision. I made it and once I made it, I moved on. I’m ready to move on and just keep improving my game and take it to the next level.”
You and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski talked about the possibility of you staying one year before you arrived at Duke. What was it about Duke and Coach K that gave you any pause before the decision was made?
“Going into college, I hadn’t already made up my mind to be one and done. You have to go out on the court and prove it first. You have to do well. I looked at it and just thought Duke was the best fit for me. People are saying it wasn’t a good fit and saying it wasn’t the right school for me. But if I had to choose it all over again, I would. I love my teammates. They are like a family to me. I love my coaches. They helped me mature as a person and get a lot better. They put me in a position where I matured a lot and I’m ready to go to the pros.”
What do you think about when people say that maybe you picked the wrong school?
“Maybe because the way Duke runs their offense. I’m high scoring, like to get up and down (the court) and I’m very athletic. Sometimes people see Duke as not that when they are that. I thought we could have worked on things. I thought our offense was stagnant, but it had to do with the players on the floor and not the coaches. I like this school and I liked where I played and I thought I fit in great. When I hear that, people have their opinions. That’s their job as analysts.”
Describe your conversations with Coach K last week.
“Coach K was very supportive. He knew I had a tough decision to make. He knew I’d be a good pick. He had talked to people, too, and he said he heard I’d be really good pick, as well. The first thing he said was, ‘I want you to do what’s best for you and I want you to do what you think is right.’ After putting the pros and cons together, I wanted to take my chances in the NBA. He thinks I can do it, too. It was the right decision that we made together.”
Do you have a goal in mind as far as finishing your degree? Will it be from Duke?
“I definitely want to get my degree one day — every summer, come back for a summer session and get some work done. That’s something me and Kyrie (Irving) will both do going forward. To get a Duke degree, I think it would be cool and interesting, and it’s something I want to do in the future.”
Because of the way the season turned out, with no ACC titles and the Lehigh loss, does that make the UNC game in Chapel Hill and the shot you made more special in retrospect?
“It was a big shot and a big game. Overall, we had a great year. If you look at our record, we overall had a really great year. We just ended it in a not positive way. Unfortunately, that’s what people remember. At the same time, that shot and the game, it was a big game for us. At least here in Durham, you can say it was 1-1 (with UNC).”
While 27 wins are a great accomplishment for most programs, this year’s Duke team fell short of others in overall accomplishments. Why do you think things went the wrong way in March?
“We had, overall, a really great year. A couple of things went wrong. First off, I think we were a little bit too stagnant (on offense), and on defense, we should have been a little bit tougher. Those two things put a hold on things. If we fought overall as a team, we could have made a run at it.”
How do you feel about Duke basketball heading into next season and beyond? Is the talent there, or coming in, to get back to the Final Four?
“I think they are going to be good. You’ve got two redshirts that didn’t play that are going to be playing in Marshall and Alex. A lot of people haven’t had a chance to see how good Mike Gbinije is. He’s a freak athlete. With him working hard this summer, he can be a really big lift for the team next year. Good recruiting class that could be a really good recruiting class. You have Rasheed Sulaimon, he’s a really top player. He will add to the backcourt with Seth (Curry) and (Andre Dawkins).”
Speaking of the redshirts and Mike, they are kind of forgotten this season. What did you see from them in practice?
“All three of them are athletes. Our best athlete on the team, as far as just jumping wise, Mike is one of the best leapers I’ve ever seen. He’s a very, very athletic dude. All three of them have been on serious weight program. They’ve gained a lot of weight and are stronger. Alex can spread the floor and shoot a little bit and finish at the rim. So can Mike. Marshall is a very high-energy guy, and that’s the type of guy you want to play with. I don’t like to compare, but you look at a guy like Joakim Noah, a guy who plays with constant energy. He’ll sacrifice his body and get on the floor for loose balls. That’s kind of like Marshall. Those are players that you want to play with. So I think the three of them can add really good aspects to Duke. With the recruiting class and the players returning, I think they can be really good. And then you add the greatest coach — I think there is no doubt they’ll be a really good team.”
Article source: HeraldSun - Duke Sports