Just a few weeks after the NBA trade deadline nearly led him to the Boston Celtics, Austin Rivers sits at his locker in the visiting TD Garden locker room as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. He fields a flurry of questions about the almost-trade and then reflects on his time in the city when his father, Doc Rivers, served as the Celtics head coach for nine seasons.
Once the scrum breaks, he chomps down on a turkey sandwich, a few drops of tomato juice dripping down into the plastic take-out container in his lap. The former Duke point guard looks across the room as a 50-inch plasma-screen TV airs the Blue Devils’ clash with Gonzaga in the Elite Eight.
“Winslow is a great athlete,” he says as the freshman guard drains a three-pointer to give Duke an early 3-2 lead. “And Tyus Jones plays like a veteran. He can score. He’s got swagger and confidence. That’s one thing I look about this team is their confidence level, and I think that starts with Quinn Cook.”
Duke would go on to beat Gonzaga with a late-game surge and is just one win away from potentially facing Kentucky in the National Championship game.
“Kentucky is Kentucky, but they can be beat,” Rivers says. “It’s not easy. Notre Dame had to play a perfect game and they did, that was a heck of a season for them. But we match up with them better. I think Wisconsin does, too. With Jahlil guarding Towns, you’ve got Winslow guarding their athletic wings and our guard play, I don’t know. We’ll see.”
The Clippers locker room has three former Dukies: Rivers, JJ Redick and Dahntay Jones.
Redick is obviously the current Clipper most frequently affiliated with the university. After scoring 2,769 career points as a Blue Devil, Redick is arguably the most hated Duke player since Christian Laettner, being cut from the same devilishly handsome cloth.
The three Clippers are just a few of the 18 former Blue Devils currently holding NBA roster spots.
“The fraternity of Duke players is strong. NBA or not, we all know each other,” Redick says following L.A.’s 119-106 victory over the Celtics. “If you go back 30 years, I’m friends with just about every Duke player that played there. So, every time you see them on the court or in the League or during the summer, you always catch up, different generations, we’re all friends.”
Redick, a noted obsessive film watcher, says he doesn’t have much time to watch college basketball anymore. “I’m an NBA fan,” he declares.
Rivers, meanwhile, watches Duke play whenever possible.
“Any time I have time,” Rivers says. “I would have tonight, but obviously,” he laughs, with his own tip-off just about 50 minutes away.
Being a Duke product also means supporting Okafor over Towns in the ever-developing debate over who should be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
“I’d go with Okafor just because I’ve watched him more,” Rivers explains. “But Towns, after seeing him last night, my gosh. Without him, they would have lost. So, I think you can go either or.
“They’re both incredible players, especially for them to be that big and already have that footwork down. A lot of bigs in their 10th year in the League are still learning that now. They already have that down. It’s confidence it’s footwork, it’s knowing how to play. They just have a rhythm and feeling that you can’t teach.”
The Blue Devils face Tom Izzo and Michigan State on Saturday at 6:09 p.m. EST. A victory won’t just mean a likely date with Kentucky. A Duke championship appearance will probably send a few NBA players to Indianapolis.
“If they go to the Championship game, me and JJ and Dahntay might fly out,” Rivers says. “You know, if it’s cool with the coach.”