Catching up with K.C. Rivers

DALLAS - When K.C. Rivers arrived at Clemson back in 2004, the men's hoops program had a ways to go to climb out of the cellar of the ACC.

And Rivers, who came to Tigertown from storied high school powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, was a big part of that resurgence.

His solid play helped the Tigers evolve from an afterthought in his early days to a perennial ACC title contender under head coach Oliver Purnell. After completing his eligibility, like many seniors, Rivers went to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, one of several NBA pre-draft camps. On draft night, he didn't hear his name called but he now finds himself on the summer league roster of the Dallas Mavericks, where he hopes to showcase his talent and possibly earn an invite to training camp which begins in October.

CUTigers.com caught up with him just before he left for Las Vegas and here's what he had to say:

K.C. let's talk first about your time at Clemson. You've often said how much you learned and how much you grew up the last couple of years, but now that you are away from the area ... what do you think?
Rivers: I had a great year. I had a great four years. In my opinion, I did some things that I set out to accomplish. I helped a productive school that wasn't as productive for some years become productive again with a tremendous potential to go on. I leave behind a tremendous group of guys. [Terrence] Oglesby had me wondering for a bit there [with him leaving to go to Europe]. I think the guys will have a great nucleus coming back, especially with Booker back. It's just been a great run. Coach Purnell has been doing a great job for the past six years. I look back with no regrets. Everything I did, I did the right way. I wanted to win and wanted my guys to feel the same way. Clemson has been a great place for me.

How was your relationship with Coach Purnell?
Rivers: Me and Coach Purnell have never had a time where there was ever anything negative between us. He's always been very positive and very encouraging. He knew what type of person I was and I knew what type of person he was. Our personalities connected and there was no clash between us. If coach needed to get on his best players, he did when he needed to. I understood that. I may not like that sometime but I was young and I still understand that. I had all the respect in the world for Coach Purnell and what he wanted to do. He carried me through four years.

Growing up in Charlotte, you were a Duke fan. So how weird was it the first time you played the Blue Devils?
Rivers: The first minute I got in and hit a three, it was a little bit weird. I realized I was playing against Duke but that was the end of it. I was ecstatic. I was pumped and my energy was high. The whole week leading up to the game, I was ecstatic. I was pumped, into it, enthused and was just ready to play. I wish the outcome had come our way. If we had made our free throws, it would have. We were seven of 29 that day.

How significant was your time at Oak Hill?
Rivers: That was great. We had practices my junior year where you're going against Josh Smith, who played for the Atlanta Hawks and Rajan Rondo. You go against guys like that, you've got a practice full of intense players who are going to give you their best each and every day. Regardless of if it's going to turn out well or not, you're going to get their very best.

Did you ever hook up with current NBA player and former Tiger Greg Buckner when he comes back during the summer?
Rivers: No, I didn't. Most of the time when Buck comes back, I guess it's during the second summer session. Usually I'm at home because Coach Purnell didn't want me there for two sessions. He wanted me back home working out with my uncle because he felt like each year, I improved. You've got to improve your game every year. It's not always about scoring. It's about the little things. How can I get better at defense? How can I get better at rebounding? How can I get better at everything else?


Our first game, there were maybe 2,000 or 3,000 people in the stands. We had more at my high school games. Then, in my sophomore year, we kind of built it up and fan appreciation increases. Junior year, we exploded and had sellout crowds for pretty much the whole season.
Buckner lives in Dallas and has now been traded back to the Mavs. Have you talked to him yet?
Rivers: I haven't talked to him. Me and Buck haven't really made a connection. I know of him but haven't gotten to speak to him or ask him questions. I would love the opportunity. He's been in the league and is someone whose footsteps I have followed in. I would like to get to know him and learn how he dealt with certain things. Just for him to pass that off from one Tiger to another would be great. Hopefully our paths will cross and I can sit down and talk to him.

What is your sense of pride in knowing that you truly helped build Clemson's basketball program?
Rivers: Our first game, there were maybe 2,000 or 3,000 people in the stands. We had more at my high school games. Then, in my sophomore year, we kind of built it up and fan appreciation increases. Junior year, we exploded and had sellout crowds for pretty much the whole season. We made a great run. Unfortunately, it ended early in the NCAA Tournament. How special would it have been if all of us were coming back this past year? Senior year, it was just even better, beating Duke by 30 points. That kept bringing people out who were curious about us. We were also ranked No. 9 in the country. That was a really special team to see how much we had grown. I told Coach when I got there I wanted to help make us productive again. That's what I helped be a part of. Those four years, you saw the tremendous change. It went from nothing to something. People talk about Clemson being top 25, top 10 or maybe even top five. Now you look at it and Clemson has never been there before. They have had seasons where they have been there when (Cliff) Ellis and (Rick) Barnes were there but not this early in the year. I feel good about it because I helped be part of something that could be so special.

What was your pre-draft experience like?
Rivers: I went to Portsmouth and I still question if I should have gone or not. I felt like I had done enough throughout the season. You play in the ACC and what better competition do you want? Again, you make your bed and you've got to lay in it. I'm not going to say it hurt me but everyone has their opinions. Some think this is political and all that but I don't get into that. That's not my thing. Things happen for a reason. Maybe there is something better for me down the road. I look at it that way, You are going to always have critics saying I knew you weren't going to get drafted and I knew you weren't good enough. That's cool if you understand the process and how things go. At the same time, you get an opportunity like this to still showcase what you can do. You never know what happens. Anything is possible. I look at a good friend of mine from my hometown, Anthony Morrow. He and I kind of went the same path, undrafted and to Portsmouth. He spent two years with the Golden State Warriors. You never know, life has different courses for everybody. Not being drafted, it wasn't a dismal day for me. I still had a gathering at my aunt's house. It turned in more to a graduation gathering because I missed my graduation. I had my degree sent home. I was still content with the outcome because I had high spirits. You always hear people say you come in the front door, the back door or the side door. Right now, I'm sitting at the side door. Maybe I can get in this way.

How much different has the NBA game been for you so far?
Rivers: The pace is like an in-and-out type of pace. Sometimes it can be fast and sometimes it can be slow. There's no 35-second shot clock any more, now it's 24. You've still got the NBA rules like defensive three seconds. Understanding the rules is more important than anything. Now you're not going over plays every day. In college, you're constantly going over plays to keep them fresh. But when you get here, they show it to you, you watch the man in front of you, then you get out and do it and we move onto the next one. The biggest adjustment is learning how to see things without having to be told twice. That's the thing they look at, the little things count out here. Not everything is about scoring. You need role players-guys who rebound, get assists, get down and dirty and play defense. That's what they look for now. In college, there is that you're the man type of stuff but here, I'm at the bottom of the totem pole and you've got to live with it.

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