Very Different Paths Connect Top Prospects Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers to the HornetsPosted by EJacoby on July 3rd, 2012
Before the 2011-12 college basketball season began, two freshmen entered with a buzz far louder than any other newcomers. Anthony Davis of Kentucky and Austin Rivers of Duke were the top two consensus recruits, each heading to blueblood schools with preseason Top 10 hype and national title aspirations. One full year later, the stud prospects are now new teammates with the New Orleans Hornets after being selected with the team’s two lottery picks during the 2012 NBA Draft. But their journeys couldn’t have been any different along the way, with narratives that read nothing like what we expected during their high school recruitment. We’ll detail how Davis and Rivers have traveled such different paths over the past few years yet find themselves united again as the expected saviors for a program – this time as teammates.
Anthony Davis stands 6’10” today, but just three years ago he was a middling 6’2″ guard on a bad high school team. For his first two-and-a-half years at Perspectives Charter School in Chicago, he wasn’t even on the radar as a top college prospect. An average guard on a struggling team in a poor league, Davis couldn’t draw any scouts to his games. Austin Rivers, meanwhile, was already busy in the spotlight. The son of former NBA point guard and current Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, Austin was a recognized recruit since the days he spent lounging in the Boston locker room before Celtics games as a 14-year-old. While Davis struggled in the Chicago Public League in 2010, Rivers was leading his Winter Park (FL) High School to a state title, with 23 points in the championship game. Months later, he was the star player of Team USA’s U-18 gold medal squad at the FIBA Americas, scoring a team record 35 points in one win over Canada.
But a massive growth spurt during Davis’ junior year changed everything. The eventual Kentucky star grew eight inches in the span of a few months, adding dominant shot-blocking and rim-rocking talents yet retaining some of his guard skills on the perimeter. During the summer between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, he rose up recruiting rankings until only one name stood between him and the #1 spot: Rivers. It didn’t take long before Davis was the more highly touted recruit, emerging as the new talk of the town and a classic late bloomer who lacked the ego that Rivers had developed since his early high school days. Nonetheless, both players were the consensus top two recruits heading into the 2011-12 college season.
The rest is history, as Davis continued his exponential growth by turning in one of the great single-season performances in college hoops history while Rivers was criticized perhaps as much as any other college player in the country. Both players led their teams in scoring, but the narratives were polar opposites. Davis was the unselfish leader, displaying an intense work ethic that rubbed off on his teammates to produce a winning atmosphere. Rivers was the ‘me-first’ scorer, seemingly more interested in getting his own numbers rather than making his teammates better. Davis led the nation in blocks (4.7 BPG) while winning the SEC Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, National Player of the Year, and NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player awards for the eventual National Champions. Rivers was a first team All-ACC selection (who some openly questioned) and displayed great offensive skills, but he couldn’t even lead his team past #15-seed Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament.
Come June’s NBA Draft, past performance isn’t valued nearly as much as potential future returns. It didn’t matter that Davis and Rivers were once the top two players in their high school class and became coveted as the ‘next big thing’ at their respective historic programs. Nonetheless, they both classified for early draft entry as 19-year-olds and found their way into the Top 10 overall picks. It just so happens that the team with the #1 pick also had the #10 overall pick, and it needed help at every position. Enter Davis, the dominant and versatile defensive force capable of anchoring the Hornets’ defense. And enter Rivers, the explosive scorer with an electric first step and confident attitude capable of running the show offensively.
There wasn’t a better mix of complementary talents in the 2012 draft, and there couldn’t be a better fit than the Hornets for both players. While Davis and Rivers may have been competing for the top spot in their high school class and then in college as the top overall rookies, they must now get used to new roles as NBA teammates. While Davis is a skinny, late bloomer and Rivers is the cocky NBA prodigy, no one can question either player’s work ethic or passion for the game. Both young men are gym rats with high basketball IQs who excelled during Combine interviews. The sky’s the limit for both Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, and expect a fun ride through the rebuilding effort in New Orleans while we get to watch the two former college stars mesh together as professional teammates.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him on Twitter @evanjacoby.