Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Passion for Basketball Runs Through These Rivers

Standing on the floor of Madison Square Garden as Georgetown celebrated its win over Pittsburgh in the Big East tournament title game, Jeremiah Rivers was missing his championship hat.

The freshman guard had not lost it in the raucous celebration that ensued as the Hoyas passed around the conference trophy. It was not knocked off as Georgetown posed for photos or ceremoniously cut down the net as the team reveled in its first Big East tournament crown in over a decade.

Rather, the hat that belonged to the back-up point guard was being worn by his little brother, Spencer, who joined in to celebrate his brother’s big victory.

With a grin that stretched from ear to ear, the littlest Rivers – who looks exactly like one would imagine an 11-year-old Jeremiah used to look – smiled with pride from the floor of the Garden as he stood with the team, looking up to the crowd as if to say, “Yeah, that’s my brother.”

Spencer was not the only member of the Rivers family to make his way down to the court after the Hoyas defeated the Panthers earlier this month. Jeremiah’s sister, Callie, his brother, Austin, his mother, Kristen, and, of course, his father, Glenn “Doc” Rivers, all found their way down to the hardwood during the trophy presentation, too, making sure to give huge hugs of congratulations to the freshman.

“It’s a great feeling having my whole family there,” Rivers says. “It’s really encouraging for me. It makes me really happy and proud to have my whole family there.”

It’s fitting that winning a Big East championship would be a family affair for the 6-foot-4 guard from Winter Park, Fla. For the son of the current head coach of the Boston Celtics, basketball has always been inseparable from his family. His brothers have always been part of his hoops experience – especially Spencer, who Jeremiah says used to join in the pre game huddles with his high school team – and his father has always been there to chip in a few words of advice as well.

Even now, hundreds of miles from both Massachusetts and Florida, Rivers is as close as ever with his family.

“My dad is my best friend, and we talk every night about basketball and just about the game,” Rivers says. “We usually talk about college basketball first. We talk about my team and whatnot. He asks me how I played and tells me how he thinks I played and what I need to do and he kind of breaks down all that for a little while. Then we go into NBA basketball. We talk about that for like half an hour. Then we go into my little brothers, what they’re doing. It’s a really good relationship.”

That strong support from his father – who has made it to half a dozen of Rivers’ Georgetown games this season despite his hectic NBA schedule – has helped the guard get through a turbulent season. As a freshman, Rivers expected to see limited minutes and, for the first time in his basketball career, have the ball out of his hands. He did not, however, expect to be plagued by injuries.

In October, one of Rivers’ teammates fell on his foot during practice and was out for a week and half. Then, just days before the Hoyas opened the season against Hartford, Rivers found himself gasping for breath during practice, a condition later attributed to low blood sugar.

And finally, in one of the most memorable moments from his freshman campaign – albeit one he would like to forget – Rivers turned his right ankle when he landed awkwardly on teammate Jonathan Wallace during the Hoyas’ loss at Duke in early December. In what had been his best game of the young season, Rivers had to be carried off the floor and missed nearly three weeks as his ankle slowly healed.

“[I was finally] feeling better out on the court, feeling healthy and getting used to everything,” Rivers says, “and then I go down in the Duke game, so it kind of happened all over again. It was kind of like, start-stop, start-stop, and I was like, `Oh my gosh, when is this going to stop?'”

Luckily for Rivers and the Hoyas – who are thin at the guard position behind starters Wallace and sophomore Jessie Sapp – the injuries ended with the calendar year. In 2007 Rivers has stayed healthy, appearing in every Big East contest, as well as each of the Hoyas’ post season matches.

“When you look at Jeremiah, he’s gotten comfortable,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III says. “We’ve gotten comfortable with him. His teammates have gotten comfortable with him, and the minutes that he gives us are invaluable.”

On the season, Rivers is averaging over 11 minutes a game, with many of those minutes coming when Wallace or Sapp get winded or into foul trouble. But a significant number of minutes are also coming when Thompson needs a lock-down defender. Rivers is arguably the best defensive player on the Hoyas, and it is that aspect of his game he says he is most proud of.

“I take pride in my defense a lot,” Rivers says. “A lot of times Coach asks me to guard – most every game, actually – he puts me on their best player and I love that because it’s a good opportunity to go against the best of the best.”

Rivers is also a steady ball handler, equally adept with both his right and left hands. He has never had more than three turnovers in a contest and, when it comes to crunch time, Rivers gets more sure-handed instead of shakier. In Georgetown’s win over Belmont in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, Rivers dished out a career-high seven assists and had just one turnover as he looked more like a wily veteran than a freshman making his first appearance in the Big Dance.

“I think he was great,” Sapp said of Rivers’ performance against the Bruins. “Jeremiah brings a lot to the game. Today he showed how well he can pass. He does that a lot. Today was his time to show it, and he showed it. I’m really proud of him.”

Rivers is often criticized for his jumpshot – or lack thereof – but teams have learned not to sleep on the stocky guard with the mop of curly hair. At Cincinnati in late February, Bearcats Head Coach Mick Cronin purposely left Rivers unguarded, daring him to shoot the three as his man double-teamed junior center Roy Hibbert in the paint. But Cronin’s strategy backfired and Rivers burned him, knocking down back-to-back treys as the Hoyas took the lead and never looked back.

“That was huge,” Thompson said of Rivers’ threes after the Cincinnati game, “because, one, we were down and, two, they decided not to play him. They weren’t guarding him at all. His man was doubling Roy, and so he got two open looks and he banged them.”

Sapp, who also struggled with his shot during his freshman year, says he has faith that Rivers’ shot will grow more consistent as he gets more comfortable on the floor.

“Everybody talks about how much his shot is off, but he can shoot,” the sophomore guard says. “I think he’s just like me last year, a little nervous, but once he gets it going he’ll see it. He really can shoot it. Once his confidence gets up he’s going to be very good.”

And if help from his coaches and teammates isn’t enough, Rivers can always look to his father for advice, even when he may not want it.

After winning the Big East tournament, as the Hoyas retreated from the floor of the Garden, Rivers was out in the hallway with his father and brothers instead of in the locker room with his teammates as they continued their celebration. Before he had even had a chance to shower and change out of his uniform, Doc Rivers was already giving him advice on his form and dissecting his lone missed three-point attempt in that contest. Some would be annoyed by such an undying dedication to basketball, but Rivers does not take it personally – it’s just family.

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