Feb. 1, 2014
By: Bobby Bancroft
While college basketball provides non-stop action from early November through the Madness of March, there can be times when the offseason seems a bit long even for the most diehard of fans. But for the players, especially those striving to be the best, the offseason - at least one longer than a few days - doesn't actually exist. Just ask Georgetown sophomore guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera.
After arriving in the nation's capital on the heels of winning a prep national championship at Oak Hill Academy, Smith-Rivera literally showed that he belonged from Day 1. Forced into action early on against Duquesne in the 2012-13 home opener after eventual BIG EAST Player of the Year Otto Porter Jr. went out with an injury, Smith-Rivera responded by leading the Hoyas to a victory with a team-high 19 points on 4-of-4 shooting from three-point range.
The Indianapolis native managed to maintain his initial fast pace throughout the entire season by posting impressive first-year averages of 8.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.4 assists while knocking down 40.4 percent of his shots.
Even though he came off the bench in all 32 games, Smith-Rivera - or DSR - as he is commonly referred, was able to finish fourth on the team in scoring while his 39 three-pointers were good enough for third best among all Hoyas.
Not only was Smith-Rivera's 33-point outburst against DePaul on Feb. 20, 2013 the second-highest individual output under John Thompson III but it was the most by any freshmen since Victor Page hit that same total in the 1996 BIG EAST Tournament.
In the end Smith-Rivera played a large role as Georgetown won its third BIG EAST regular season title under Thompson. Fittingly so, DSR rightfully earned a spot on the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team.
But the 6-foot-3 sharpshooter knew he could do better. He knew he could improve in all areas. So after the season ended, DSR immediately went to work.
"I started to eat better," Smith-Rivera admitted about his first offseason change. "I started conditioning a lot more. Also, I mentally got in a better place on the court and I think that was also key."
Once the spring semester was complete, Smith-Rivera went back home to Indiana and focused on certain aspects of his individual game before returning back to campus to get back into more of a team setting for preparation.
Most of Smith-Rivera's motivation came from within rather than outsiders telling him where he needed to improve.
"I think it was from me personally," Smith-Rivera explained. "I think last year I was a lot less efficient than I should have been. One game I'd have 20 points, shoot 9-of-10, but then some games I'd shoot 3-of-12 and have 6 points. It really was about being more efficient. So I wanted to prepare myself in situations where you are tired but you have to play through it. You have to be physical and mentally tougher than the opponent."
During his offseason training DSR transformed himself from a 227-pound freshman into a 219-pound sophomore and it has paid off with immediate dividends. Through 20 games Smith-Rivera is averaging 35.0 minutes per game and during a recent road trip to Butler and Xavier the sophomore played 84 of a possible 85 minutes while scoring a team-high 36 points in the process as the Hoyas split the pair.
Having already earned himself a spot on the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll four times this season, DSR is among the league leaders in points (17.1, 5th), field goal percentage (45.7%, 15th), assists (3.0, 13th), free throw percentage (85.0%, 3rd), steals (1.2, 12th), and three-point field goal percentage (42.7%, 6th).
One of the things Smith-Rivera values the most about playing at Georgetown is his relationship with senior co-captain Markel Starks. Together they form one of the most formidable backcourts in not just the BIG EAST but the country.
So far Smith-Rivera and Starks are one-and-two on the team in scoring at 17.1 and 16.4 respectively and have combined for 12 20-point plus games. The Hoyas dynamic duo have also combined for over 45 percent of Georgetown's scoring to date on the season but what really makes their relationship on the court go so smoothly is their ability to play off of each other.
"Markel is always looking to get involved in the game, he wants to be effective in many ways," Smith-Rivera explained about his backcourt running mate's philosophy. "Me being able to score, he has the leisure of finding me open and I have the exact same thing with him. Markel is a tremendous shooter and I can also hit shots so we kind of use that as our counter. We find each other when we're open to get good looks at the basket to get each other going."
Numerous times this season, while looking over the final box score at a postgame press conference, Head Coach John Thompson III has made it a point to bring up how well balanced Smith-Rivera has become on the court. He's a scorer who is not just defined by his points - and that's a characteristic that will always make a coach proud.
One area that often surprises fans, coaches, and opposing players alike is the relatively small statured guard's ability to go in among the big bodies and pull down crucial rebounds. Smith-Rivera is currently third on the Hoyas with 4.8 rebounds per game. It's a fact that DSR is most proud of because he knows what it takes to clean the glass.
"It's just more of an effort thing," Smith-Rivera said during a recent media session. "I watched a lot of film from last season over the summer and there were a lot of rebounds, loose balls that I could have come up with. Last year I feel that not being in the shape that I should have been in cost me some rebounds."
Second on the team assists behind Starks at 3.0 per game, Smith-Rivera insists that the environment is right to make the right play with the Hoyas.
"Coach Thompson has us within our comfort zone - getting up and down the court. A lot of the assists come like that as we have guys who can knock down shots, guys that can fill the lane and finish baskets at the rim so assists are definitely available."
As a bit of a recent reward for all of his hard work, Smith-Rivera was able to lead the Hoyas with 18 points in a 70-67 overtime win over Butler in virtually his backyard.
"It was exciting just to see my family there," Smith-Rivera remembered with a smile on his face.
DSR also admitted that when Butler formally joined the BIG EAST it was actually his family that was more excited than he was because they would get to see him play at home more often.
So as Georgetown continues to fight through the season in the always competitive BIG EAST, it's important to remember that a player's transformation occurs mainly in the `offseason' when few are watching.