NBA: Davis, Duke's Rivers go to work in New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS — Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers began their first full day as pros together on Hornets owner Tom Benson’s private plane.
They flew from New Jersey to New Orleans, where the two 19-year-olds will be expected to ignite the turnaround of an NBA franchise before they’re even old enough to participate fully in the Big Easy’s renowned night life.
They aren’t giving themselves much time to party anyway.
Their plan is to remain in New Orleans and work out together at the Hornets’ training center until Davis, the top pick in Thursday night’s draft, has to leave for Team USA tryouts on July 5. If there’s time, they might even find places to live.
Rivers will get ready for Las Vegas summer league later in the month.
Davis, who has dealt with the pre-draft hype that goes with being the consensus No. 1 pick, seemed relieved that chapter of his life was over, and that he could start focusing on getting ready to compete against the best basketball players in the world.
“I just wanted to get everything out of the way, step on the court and not have to worry about anything else,” Davis said Friday after his formal introduction and photo op at the New Orleans Arena.
Davis, who stands nearly 6-foot-11 and, as Benson noted with a smile, might still be growing, has been working on adding bulk with a trainer in California. The former Kentucky star affectionately nicknamed “the unibrow” said he now weighs 230 pounds, and lists his training goals as getting bigger, improving his conditioning and refining the skills he’ll need to become a premier NBA big man.
“Guys do this for a living and now I’ve got the opportunity to do it as well, so I’ve got to make sure I’m ready,” Davis said.
Rivers, the son of former NBA player and current Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, also seemed eager to get to work.
“It’s almost like I’ve been teased my whole life, getting to see it firsthand, but I’ve actually never gotten to do it,” Rivers, who starred at Duke, said of growing up around the NBA. “A lot of people settle when they’re in the NBA. I’m even more motivated than I was in college now that I’m here.”
Shortly after the pair arrived in New Orleans, they made their first community appearance at Hornets forward Jason Smith’s basketball camp. Davis’ parents, Anthony Sr. and Eranier made the trip, as did Rivers’ mother, Kris, and his sister, Callie.
Hornets coach Monty Williams have stressed, however, that they do not want to put too much pressure on the teenage rookies to vault the Hornets up the standings right away.
“I think coach does a great job taking pressure off of guys,” said Davis, who joins a team that went 21-45 last season.
Oklahoma City, which has used youth to build a contender, needed several seasons to make the finals after drafting Kevin Durant and has yet to win a title.
“They’re still going through it. That’s where we have to get. We have to keep building and keep getting better,” Rivers said. “The time will come. We’ve just got to keep working at it.”
Davis said he hopes trying out and possibly playing for Team USA at the London Games accelerates his development.
“Playing with the superstars in this league — it’ll be a great opportunity for me,” Davis said. “They’ll show me the ropes, show me things I’ve never seen before. … I just can’t wait to learn from them.”
When Davis returns to New Orleans, he’ll have a chance to continue playing with his former Kentucky teammate, small forward Darius Miller, who was picked by New Orleans in the second round, 46th overall.
“I was ecstatic. He’s a great player,” Davis said of Miller, whom he was close with at Kentucky. “It’s fun playing with him and I think he can really help this organization.”
Rivers said he would be comfortable playing either point guard or shooting guard.
Williams likes the idea of restricted free agent Eric Gordon — whom the Hornets expect to re-sign — and Rivers playing in the back court together at times, giving New Orleans two players in the backcourt who can create their own shots from either the perimeter or on the drive.
Rivers is also eager to see how the presence of Davis helps him and fellow Hornets guards run the pick-and-roll offense.
“I’ve been thinking about it all the time. … I can throw the ball basically anywhere and those long arms can go and catch it and dunk it,” Rivers said. “It’s going to be cool. I know Eric is probably grinning, too, and Jarrett Jack and (Greivis) Vasquez — all these guys.”
Rivers said he hoped he would get to play for Williams in New Orleans, and so did his family. Williams became friends with Doc Rivers when they were teammates with the New York Knicks in the 1994-95 season. They spent part of a second season together in San Antonio. Rivers was later Williams’ coach in Orlando for three seasons.
Williams has known Austin Rivers since he was a toddler, and the rookie’s mother was pleased her son would be playing for a coach who cares for him personally.
“It’s a huge blessing personally to have someone who’s going to take over mentoring and who kind of expands the village of who raises your child,” Kris Rivers said. “I feel beyond comfortable, and basketball-wise, he’s going to get his butt challenged. I know Monty’s tough as nails but he’s fair. Very few people have more integrity than him.”
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