Rivers Doing All the Little Things For Hoosiers
Jan. 11, 2009
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - It can't be easy.
He's a player who has eaten and breathed basketball for most of his life. One who has been destined to be a basketball player since his earliest of days. And as one of the oldest players on a team that is the most inexperienced in NCAA history, he knows he could help them on the court.
But on game day, Jeremiah Rivers has to sit on the sidelines, as he is unable to play due to NCAA transfer rules, the result of transferring to Indiana from Georgetown, where he helped the Hoyas to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and a spot in the 2007 Final Four.
That's not to say that his presence hasn't helped the Hoosiers on the court, though. But for Rivers to be watching from the sidelines is tough for him to swallow.
"It's been difficult," says Rivers, standing in the hallway outside the team's locker room following a film session. "The team does a really good job of keeping me with them in practice, keeping me involved, keeping me feeling like I'm playing the next game. Coach always puts me on the scout team, so I almost forget during practice that I'm not playing, it feels like I'm playing.
"Game days are the days where I realize that, `Gosh, I'm not playing today.' They are harder days for me because I see the team getting geared up, getting ready to play, and I'm just sitting there wishing I could be with the guys and help them out in any way possible. So game day kind of hits me in the face a little bit."
So Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics head coach and former Marquette and 13-year NBA veteran Doc Rivers, is relegated to the role of player-coach-mentor on the days when IU takes the floor against a team wearing a different color uniform. But it's a role that he embraces, and one that is of vital importance to the coaching staff.
"I try to just reiterate what the coaches are telling me," Rivers says. "Coaches can't always get through to the players, so sometimes they want a player to help get through to the players. They really want the players to help each other out by communicating. If I see something, the coaches and I will discuss it on the bench. If I see something, I'll tell Coach [Crean] or Coach will tell me to tell the players something because they are so busy during the games, they can't go talk to everyone.
"So I'll go try to tell the player as positively as possible what the coaches see, what I see, and I'll ask them what they see out there. I think it's helped, especially defensively, in terms of our principles and whatnot."
While sitting on the sidelines, Rivers is afforded the opportunity to watch the game from the outside looking in. When looking at it from this angle, the Winter Park, Fla., native sees some of his influence from practice taking shape on the court on game day.
"I pressure Daniel [Moore] a lot," he says, "I pressure Devan [Dumes] a lot, I pressure Verdell [Jones III] a lot, defensively, so I think as time has gone on in practice, they are getting more comfortable, they're getting better. So you can see through the past four or five games that they are getting better at taking the contact, being able to be more controlled with the ball, our turnovers have gone down, we've been more focused. I think I've helped them in that sense and also I think I've helped keep them alert on defense as well."
A year removed from playing 34 games off the bench for Georgetown, Rivers came to Indiana largely because of the relationship that he and his father had with Hoosier head coach Tom Crean. But though Rivers knew Crean outside of basketball very well, he had much to learn about Crean on the court.
"I didn't know his style of coaching, I didn't know as much about him as far as the coaching side. It's always been more with my dad when I've met him, going out to eat, visiting. And he hadn't seen me play in a while as far as practicing and my habits, so I think our relationship has really progressed and improved as the season has gone on especially.
"I brought some bad habits over from Georgetown that I've developed over the years and he's just harped on me, and I think there was a point where I decided I had to change. I had to make a commitment to not only Coach Crean and the staff, but to the team. I was a little too involved in my habits that I had, and the past two or three weeks, I've really tried to improve what the coaches have reiterated to me."
Another area where Rivers is working hard to improve is in his role as a vocal leader. In one year, he has gone from being one of the youngest players on a veteran Georgetown squad to being one of the oldest on the Hoosiers.
"I'm still progressing as a vocal leader," he says. "At Georgetown, I was never a vocal leader because we had seniors and guys who have established their game there. So coming in here, that has been new to me, everything's been new to me - being a leader, being one of the older guys - I've never been in that situation before. So I've really improved on keeping the spirits up, keeping the guys focused, keeping their mind on winning and not letting them get caught up in all the other obstacles and all the other things that can lead people astray from the true goal."
Rivers says he has seen a dramatic change in everyone on the team - both on and off the court - over the last several weeks when the players could focus solely on basketball. And the changes, he says, are all for the better.
"We're definitely starting to jell. We do a lot of things as a team. We go out to eat a lot as a team, we tell jokes inside the locker room as a team. It's really becoming a family, which is really special - I don't think every college team can say it's a family situation. For our team, especially, we need to be a family and I think over the course of this December to January period where we have more time together, we've really been able to jell on the court and off the court as well."
So for Rivers, sitting on the sidelines on gameday and embracing his role as player-coach-mentor is a role he has embraced. And with the head coach of the reigning NBA champs on his speed dial, he has a significant asset in asking for coaching tips. But more often than not, the advice goes in the other direction.
"I more consult with him about what I see on his team," the younger Rivers says. "He doesn't get much time to watch our team, just like Coach Crean doesn't have much time to watch the NBA teams. But I always catch the Celtics game, and I'll tell him how I feel and he'll either agree with me or disagree with me. I'll tell him everything that's going on with the team and he always tells me to stick with it. He tells me that we've got a great group of guys and a great leader in Coach Crean, so if we believe in him everything will work out."
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