On March 31st, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera dropped a bomb on Hoya basketball fans.
The Indianapolis native announced he would forego his senior year of college to declare for the NBA Draft, leaving Head Coach John Thompson III to deal with a literal changing of the guards. The 2014-2015 Big East Preseason Player of the Year, Georgetown’s leader in scoring and assists, the man who went toe-to-toe with the national scoring leader, the single anchor of consistency in a program that went from a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament to the NIT in one year, was gone.
For one week, Georgetown students stumbled around campus dejected and bewildered. Then, just as suddenly as the star guard disappeared, he was back. On April 7th, Smith-Rivera announced he would return to the Hilltop, ready for one last run at a national championship.
“At the time I just felt like I was ready,” said Smith-Rivera. “I prepped up until that point. I worked on countless things to try to develop my game, and I thought I was ready with that. Over some time, I thought about finishing school. I’ve come this far, to not finish would be a disappointment, more so to my family than anything. I’m the first generation from my family to go to college and I’ll be the first to graduate, so that was a major factor.”
The 6’ 3” guard will enter his final year at Georgetown following an impressive 2014-2015 campaign, tallying 16.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and 3.2 APG, while plugging away at a clip of 42.1 percent overall from the field, 38.7 percent from downtown, and 86.1 percent from the free-throw line. Smith-Rivera made it clear in his breakout sophomore season that he could score, but his junior year proved that he’s more than a scorer—he’s a ballplayer. Smith-Rivera leads returning Hoyas in points, assists, rebounds, and steals per game.
Smith-Rivera dueled national stars from Kansas, Villanova, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Florida with an unparalleled fearlessness. His confidence to take low-percentage shots raised questions about his judgement, but his unique, inexplicable ability to miraculously find the net at impossible angles when the team needed it most raised questions about his mortality.
DSR gunned his way to the All-Big East First Team after finishing fourth in the league in scoring, en route to leading the Hoyas back to the NCAA Tournament after a depressing relegation to the NIT in 2013-2014.
“I think last year we did well,” said the star guard. “We did okay. We finished in the top 25, but I think we lost maybe a handful of games last year by five or fewer points so hopefully as a team we can all be better.”
Smith-Rivera brings far more than statistics to the court. He is the last remaining Hoya to play significant minutes for the two-seed 2012-2013 team alongside the Washington Wizards’ Otto Porter and to have the experience of facing the despised rival Syracuse Orange, a ritual that will resume this season.
The senior has sought to play a role in molding the talented sophomore class, and will continue to be a resource for them again this year, as well as for the new promising freshmen class.
“Since my sophomore year I’ve always felt like I could be a leader in different ways, not always a vocal leader, more by example,” said Smith-Rivera.
Smith-Rivera, now a captain, will be responsible for leading the young Hoya team through perhaps the most difficult schedule in recent program history. Non-conference commitments include regional rival Maryland, last season’s national runner-up Wisconsin, a possible matchup with national champion Duke, and the rekindling of rivalries with Syracuse and UConn.
“It was exciting for me just to have that level of competition to start off the season,” said Smith-Rivera. “I think it’ll be a great test for us. Hopefully we can come out with all wins. The guys, I’m most certain that they’ll be ready, and we’ve done a lot of preparation. Leading up to that, we want to have high expectations.”
Those early non-conference battles will serve as a prologue for another grueling season of Big East basketball against national names DSR knows all too well. He’ll have to go toe-to-toe with Providence’s Kris Dunn, Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono, and Butler’s Kellen Dunham, plus the newly retooled teams set to bounce back from the bottom of the conference last year.
“The teams that don’t get as much appreciation, even those teams are just as tough to battle night in and night out, because they have tremendous players also,” said Smith-Rivera. “So we’ll see how it goes and hopefully at the end of the race we’re on top.”
The Hoyas were picked second in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll, but Smith-Rivera is thinking bigger.
“I think as a team, coming into the season we’ve gotten a lot of recognition but I feel like, as many players as we have returning, and with the group that we have, I think we’re better than people perceive us to be,” said Smith-Rivera. “We’ve just got to go out and prove that. I won’t really say too much about what we can do. You’ll see when the games come around and the teams that we play.”
In an offense with a plethora of scoring weapons, as sophomore stars Isaac Copeland, Paul White, and LJ Peak all left their marks on the box scores in their first years of college ball, Smith-Rivera plans to shift his focus to the other parts of the game for his final collegiate run. The prolific scorer already gave us a glimpse of his diverse skill set last year, and he plans to prioritize defense even more going forward.
“Just defend,” said Smith-Rivera. “We’ve got a lot of different kind of guys who can score the ball so points won’t be an issue. It’s just defending and rebounding. We’ll be fine.”
The final chapter, as it always does, will carry some extra weight for the face of the Hoyas. With the talented young group around him, there’s a real chance for a magical conclusion to Smith-Rivera’s career on the Hilltop.
“I just want to make the most of it, man,” said the senior. “That’s all it is. Especially with this team.”
Throughout all the drama of early tournament exits, blowout conference upsets, and a turbulent week as a pseudo-professional, one thing has never changed. It’s a feeling he found the words to express during the team’s preseason trip to Italy.
“Ti amo Georgetown.”