Let’s forget about this year. Otto Porter, Markel Starks, Greg Whittington, and company are definitely returning next season for John Thompson III. And there’s an outside chance that a certain highly touted, flat-topped center from Massachusetts will be on the court with them. But with or without Nerlens Noel, Thompson’s incoming recruiting class is promising, highlighted by a six-foot-three, 230-pound combo guard who can shoot the lights out.
No, Austin Freeman hasn’t magically regained some years of eligibility, but Oak Hill Academy’s D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is the highest-recruited Hoya commit at guard since Freeman himself back in 2007. While he may not be Freeman 2.0, Smith-Rivera’s game has turned quite a few heads, including that of his own coach. Oak Hill’s venerable Steve Smith sees the comparison to Freeman, but believes his own guard is even better.
“They are a little similar,” Smith conceded in a phone interview with the Voice. “But I think he’s better than Austin coming in there as a freshman. He’s quicker, he’s more mobile, and he’s athletically similar to Austin. I think maybe he’s a better shooter than Austin at the same stage.”
With senior Jason Clark’s graduation and junior Hollis Thompson’s possible departure to the pros, Smith-Rivera’s arrival could not be timelier for the Hoyas. The guard’s recruitment has been fairly low-profile, especially compared to Freeman’s. Of course, Freeman was a McDonald’s All-American and also a consensus top-15 recruit. Smith, for one, thought his star player should have been one as well, advocating for his inclusion on the roster.
“I don’t know why he’s not in top 20 in the country,” the coach said. “He should’ve been a lock for McDonald’s All-American. I told everybody that he’s the best guard that I’ve coached in a while at the beginning of the season—guess they didn’t believe me.”
Smith knows a thing or two about high school players—his academy has churned out superstars that include Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Jennings, Rajon Rondo, Jerry Stackhouse, and Josh Smith, just to name a few, not to mention former Georgetown big man Julian Vaughn. Still, Smith heaps immeasurable praise on the burly Smith-Rivera, a positive for Hoya fans looking forward to next season.
“He should play immediately,” Smith said. “He’ll come in and play like a junior in college right now. He’s strong. Six-three, 230 pounds. But he’s solid, solid muscle, just a big strong kid.”
Though Smith-Rivera was widely recruited, he did not really turn heads until shining for Oak Hill this year, leading the team to a 44-0 record. His successful recruitment culminated in a mid-October commitment to the Hoyas, about a year after he de-committed from Xavier. Coupled with Brandon Bolden in the class of 2012, he is just one of a handful of great finds for Georgetown’s coaching staff, one that beat out local favorites Missouri and Kansas for Porter’s services last year. His interest in Georgetown dates back considerably, as he visited campus near the end of 2010.
During the first three seasons of his career at North Central High School in Indianapolis, Smith-Rivera’s shooting was the most suspect aspect of his game. His ESPN recruiting profile from last May reflects as much, stating that “he is a solid shooter with range to 20 feet.” Smith, speaking only about an hour after the team’s return from a lengthy post-season trip to China, pointed to the guard’s performance on the trip as evidence of his vastly-improved offensive game.
“He was scoring 28-30 points every game in China, just doing whatever he wanted to do out there [including 38 points in the first game],” Smith told the Voice. “He’s a big-time scorer. He’s more of a two [guard]than a point.”
That prolific scoring did not begin in China, either. He scored 41 points in each of his team’s final two games, capping off the Warriors’ undefeated season. The amazing part, though, is that he only played 22 and 19 minutes in each of the contests.
Thus, Smith-Rivera has dispelled the notion that his offensive game is a weakness, perhaps even changing his game to one more akin to a Freeman-like pure scorer. This season, Smith says that “DSR” has also improved his defense considerably, to the point where Oak Hill would pin him against the opponent’s best perimeter player. He was also careful to note that Smith-Rivera could take on guards taller than him, due to his brawny frame and physical nature. His passing ability, though, has never been questioned, and to Smith, this is reflective of a high basketball IQ.
“He is a smart player—he’s cerebral and understands the game. On top of that, he’s physically ready to compete, and some freshmen aren’t,” Smith said.
Taking Smith at his word on his best player, then at the very least, the Hoyas can expect an immediate contributor with a similar progression to freshmen like Porter and Whittington this season.
“He’s better than advertised, and most kids that come out of high school are not,” Smith said. “D’Vauntes, he doesn’t really have any weaknesses.”