Last year, the Hoyas needed then-sophomore shooting guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera to keep them from hitting the bottom of the Georgetown basketballing barrel. In 2014-2015, the team is looking to the 6-foot-3 junior to lead a redemption the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Head Coach John Thompson III took control of the team.
Expectations are high, but Smith-Rivera is largely unfazed by the challenge that lies before him.
When questioned about leading the team, most of his teammates are coy and say that such a responsibility doesn’t fall to any one player—not Smith-Rivera.
“Do I see myself as being a leader of this team? Yes. I’m willing to take on that role,” the shooting guard said. He’s direct, he’s to the point, and despite not being a senior, he means every word.
Smith-Rivera may not be the oldest member of the team, or the player with the most Georgetown experience, but he’s been a name on the tongue of Hoya fans since his arrival on the Hilltop. Last year, the Indianapolis native was one of the only bright spots in an otherwise dark and stormy five months, as he made just under 40 percent of his three-pointers and approximately 50 percent of his shots from the field.
Despite his success, Smith-Rivera wasn’t expecting anything special to come of his semi-herculean efforts. However, the Big East coaches had other plans in mind when they selected the junior as the conference Preseason Player of the Year. Smith-Rivera found out just before the selection was announced in New York, but was surprised by the selection nonetheless.
“I got word from my mom first, Twitter second, and then when I got there. It’s good. I feel blessed and appreciative of the honor,” Smith-Rivera said.
Where some players might see the award as added pressure, the Oak Hill graduate is only relishing the opportunity to prove he lives up to every bit of the hype. “Everybody who was at the press conference put a target on me when they heard that being announced, so I put a target on everyone else. I’m looking forward to exceeding their level of play.”
Smith-Rivera has been lauded for his style of play, and Thompson could simply ask for more of the same from his star player, but the McDonough mastermind has decided to push Smith-Rivera even further. The Hoyas’ system requires that all players be able to rotate positions if necessary. This year, the backcourt fixture will have to excel on both sides of the ball: shooting, defending, and play creating.
“I think you will see different facets of D’Vauntes’ game this year,” said Thompson. “I think you will see he can be a creative facilitator. He’s always been a pretty tough-nosed kid. He understands that his defense consistently has to be better. On top of that, he still has to score for us, which he doesn’t have a problem doing. I think you’ll see different facets and that he has grown.”
When asked about where he thought he played best in the lineup, the junior simply responded, “I’m a basketball player. That’s it.”
Another factor motivating Smith-Rivera’s evolution is the graduation of partner-in-crime Markel Starks. The former Hoya guard, who played extensive minutes last season, was tasked with the same scoring responsibilities as his backcourt counterpart. He’s left big shoes to fill in the lineup, but Smith-Rivera is taking Starks’ absence in stride, deflecting accusations that he’s now the Hoyas’ only offensive outlet.
“A lot of people are making it out to seem like I’m the only scoring option on this team, which is not true. Our freshman recruiting class is great this year. We got a lot of guys who are going to step up for us big. With the returning veterans we have this year, they’ll be contributing a lot,” Smith-Rivera said.
Speaking of the freshman, the Big East Preseason Player of the Year is one of many experienced players helping to ensure the talented class of newcomers transition into the Georgetown system as smoothly as possible. While many are focused on where the new Hoyas will fit in on the court, the junior is more concerned with preparing them for the intensely competitive nature of NCAA basketball.
“Stay confident and stay ready,” advises the veteran. “A lot of times when you come into the game you’ll be confused or lost at some point. That just comes with being a freshman in college basketball.”
In a changing system that employs a number of new faces, the junior from Indiana may be the one solid bet. The question is whether or not he can push it to the next level and become the multifaceted performer Thompson is convinced he can be.