Friday, February 24, 2012

Bobby Valentine Is Not Your Most Likable Man, Last Chance In Boston

So what if he was ejected from a game by home plate umpire Randy Marsh for arguing and later returned to the dugout in a silly disguise, hiding in a corner wearing a fake mustache and glasses. So what if New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon fired Bobby Valentine two days after the hopeless Mets finished in last place, dismissed in the season of a 12-game losing streak that sabotaged the Mets season. So what if he had a feud with Chiba Lotte Marines GM Tatsuro Hirooka, during his first stint in Japan and couldn’t even get along with team president Ryuzo Setoyama, who forced out Valentine albeit the general support from Marines’ fans.

Years ago, despite the ego trip he had that engulfed every ballclub he ever managed, which cost him his managerial job in Texas, the Red Sox targeted him to fill the role replacing ex-manager Terry Francona. Knowingly so, he pride himself as Rangers’ manager, and scheduled his own emotional news conferences to tell the folks in Texas goodbye. After nine years away from the majors, Valentine has returned for another opportunity in the managerial role at his first Red Sox camp.

When he was named Red Sox manager last winter – which he’s not the most likable man in baseball – critics had their doubts about Valentine, who was widely regarded as a manager with the biggest ego in baseball. It caught the population by surprise that Larry Lucchino, the Boston Red Sox president, whispered in newly hired GM Ben Cherington’s ear, asking him to meet Valentine when Lucchino had already hired him.

The foreseeable future of the major franchise in New England centers the newcomer Bobby V, as some see this to be a risky hiring because of his bombastic psyche and arrogance, while few envision a new era that the Red Sox can now rejuvenate following a monumental collapse and blowing a 9-game wild card lead late last season. As the folks in Boston awaits to witness what Bobby V can bring to the Red Sox, in a community where baseball is adored heavily, he needs to realize that he accepted a ballclub’s contract offer with demands for winning the pennant.

It’s a rotten shame if Valentine derails during his tenure for a high-market club that inherits largely a filled-capacity fan base which usually crowds Fenway Park, a venue where the masses come out as a family of four to witness the Red Sox. It’s been barely a few days since we’ve seen the new-look Bobby V and players are grumbling, not accustomed to the demanding style in the midst of spring training. It’s not telling whether he’s changed as a person in the time spent away from the majors, but the front office is simply overlooking his murky reputation.

In talking about Valentine, Red Sox owner John Henry trust in him to focus on the task at hand. He is, however, not the most despised man in baseball, after all, but a skipper that Red Sox executives are more less comfortable with to pioneer the club with potentially the deepest talent in the AL East. Not right now, not at the beginning of training camp is he under scrutiny or sitting on the hot seat. He has forced non-supporters to realize that he’s fittingly the suitor to serve as the manager for a team with high standards, angling to return to those triumphant days and procure a World Series title under Valentine’s watch, a man who is entering at a time when the Red Sox are overcoming the bitter taste of last season’s meltdown.

Through the episodes of a chaotic clubhouse that was fractured by the lack of effort and limited urgency that publicly revealed late last fall of players drinking beer, eating fast-food and playing video games in the clubhouse during the game, according to reports, the people in the front office felt it was time for a change. This is what happens when a manager replaces an ex-skipper, willing to take on a stiff challenge in keeping one’s eye on a team that separated as a whole and became disjointed in a matter of weeks.

The starting pitchers for the Red Sox – which included Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey, the top three pitchers in the rotation, were wavering down the stretch and truly became largely a disappointment. If there ever was an excuse for a change in a fragile culture, it’s now after those specific pitchers began drinking beer and fondling with the joysticks in the clubhouse, disrespecting and humiliating Francona. The 61-year-old Valentine is hired to take control and purge the troubles that has been a distraction inside the Red Sox clubhouse, and might just be the right choice.

The real issue here is that he creates a ruckus by always staying in the news, publicly hijacking everyone’s full attention in the universe with his self-serving and pompous character, a man who is constantly mired in the middle of tumult. But if you are in love with Valentines, well, then there is Mr. Valentine himself, garnering more recognition than Cupid’s wings and bow and arrow. It’s contentious of the Red Sox front office to allow Bobby V to manage their baseball team, and bold of them to trust in him after picking him following an exhausted managerial search.

Only a fool think he’s fittingly a descent hire, and because he’s in Boston now, this might give fans something to worry about. But then again, maybe he’s the right hire, even if he might dominate front-page headlines in local Boston newspapers and amass plenty of interest on radio stations in the community as callers will dial in to vent their displeasure for Bobby V. Because of him, Red Sox players are upset. Because of him, he has created a distraction. Because of him, he’s lowered the spirits at training camp.

This is a man criticized for a miserable 15-year major league managerial career in which he fled to Japan. This is a man loathed wholeheartedly by his peers, including some of his players. Why oh why is Valentine hated so much when he’s allowed another chance to clean up his act and redeem himself from the infamy in his past? Sometimes in life, people do grow up. Maybe Valentine learned the hard way when he had unbearably made a bad name for himself, acted like a clown and couldn’t find a managerial job because of his nonsense.

On a positive note, to say the least, he has twice made it to the playoffs and advanced to the World Series as the Mets manager in 2000, where they lost to Subway rivals the Yankees. Then, later, he eventually was canned when he clashed with Mets general manager Steve Phillips. Weigh the pros and cons to the hiring. Choosing Valentine could be good or bad. The best-case scenario is that he captures a World Series, but the worst-case is that Boston faithful runs him out of town only if he commits to failures. The reasonably well-qualified Valentine must have impressed Cherington and Lucchino, but on further note, the Red Sox have always had a reputation for bringing in low-key, controversial personalities to manage their club. It’s not surprising that he’s a manager again, nor surprising that he represents the Red Sox.

If there’s good in Valentine, it’s his experience, know-how and self-assurance, but he can even be arrogant and egotistical. He knows baseball, he’s very savvy -- just another trait that separates him from the typical baseball expert. Ask him anything about baseball, and he’ll break down the concept of the game. Even better than an expert, he’s a charity worker and visits homes of the less fortunate, he’s a miracle worker donating funds for impoverished families and cooks gourmet meals for those he never met. In his hometown of Stamford, Conn., he is the director of Public Safety and Public Health, helping those in need.

But what was really touching was when Valentine, who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks, raised money to help families after 9/11. So he is, clearly, a modest, generous man, but just come with too much baggage. He is, however, the right choice. He owns a .510 winning percentage and won a championship managing in Japan. He is having a good time with a few of his players, and was seen joking with Carl Crawford during workouts.

And so with Daisuke Matsuzaka rehabbing, Valentine might be able to shape him into pitching form as the new general manager is influenced by pitching coach Bob McClure’s idea of changing the rotation order. The words of Cherington is that Valentine was hired to “increase the level of accountability in certain areas.”

If you don’t have much hope in Bobby V, he certainly does.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Because This Game Is for Fans, Lin Should Be All Star

The team he’s joined collapsed beneath injuries and awful defense, but it’s well established that point guard sensation Jeremy Lin has galvanized New York with all the Linsanity sweeping the nation. The spectators, coaches, and team executives are amazed by a miraculous turnaround, with the success of the new rising star.

And nothing is more rewarding than Lin playing in the All-Star Game when, in reality, it’s a weekend virtually for the fans. He is, after all, the game’s attraction, and with that said, folks all over the world are anxious to see him change the dynamics in New York and also entice fanatics. The interesting question today is whether the sensational phenom should be given a spot in next weekend’s NBA All-Star Game. Certainly, he should be honorably added to the all-star roster.

But this confirmed my belief that NBA commissioner David Stern, who is responsible for the globalization of basketball but also doesn’t think Lin should even be participating in the Rising Stars Challenge featuring rookies and sophomore players on Friday night of All-Star weekend – in fairness – is keeping to his standards. There is a general rule for a last-minute invitation for a meaningless event, but every now and then, it’s not bad breaking the rules and adding a player to the event that agog fans are excited to see after watching Lin’s marveled journey.

In fact, when looking at his achievements – which we have often witnessed with all the swirling hype of his overnight sensation, one might argue that Lin definitely belongs in the All-Star game. If anything, he has ripened into a true point guard and fulfilled an NBA spectacle. For what we’ve seen in the past weeks, it’s become a feel-good story in basketball, so he’s worthy of playing in next weekend’s events and should be given the opportunity to step on the court with the best-represented studs in the league.

It’s refreshing to see someone come from out of nowhere and develop into an NBA star, and a selfless individual who deserves every bit of good future. Even if he barely rose to the occasion, Lin continues to prove he is a complete ballplayer with the intangibles of an ideal playmaker, leading the New York Knicks to seven straight victories that have pretty much stunned populace all over. Maybe the folks should realize Lin, which has been the hottest commodity in the NBA as the first Taiwanese American to play in the professional ranks, that he is America’s feel-good story.

It’s not a difficult decision right now, certainly not for Lin and the Knicks – this is the point in time when we should appreciate what he’s brought to the game – providing aspiration and exhilaration. It isn’t quite fair to exclude Lin from the All-Star festivities, but it is nonetheless, the teams have already been selected by the league assistant coaches and, in fairness, Stern probably has no intent in snubbing another player for a burgeoning guard who came out of nowhere in recent weeks. Just as importantly, he is the ultimate dictator, Stern, that is – a man who has full control of the league that almost plunged into a disaster from the prolonged lockout to result in a condensed season. He has ruled an association for quite some time now, and nonetheless, Stern has a strong influence on the NBA under his regime. It wasn’t long ago, for example, that he and the league vetoed a trade to shoot down a blockbuster trade for the Lakers.

And now this … yes, he has the all the power in the world, when it comes to the basketball empire. It’s his call, which means he has the final word on whether or not Lin is deserving to play in the All-Star game and be about of the NBA’s biggest weekend. It would be, in a year that he has absorbed our attention and stunned us with his sudden emergence, a lifelong dream for Lin to play in an exhibition game. This time around, only if Lin plays – of course – the presence of the first ever Asian American could boost TV ratings and the game’s brand.

Ten days until the game in Orlando, an announcement should come no later than Monday on whether he’s an all-star participant. There’s should be no doubt that he deserves to play in it, because in reality, he rightfully so belongs in it – incredibly exceeding his role as a complete point guard to reach this point in his heartwarming career. It took only a week for him to become a superstar in New York, where he is already treated like a celebrity and braced for salvaging an unfulfilled and moribund season.

This wasn’t anticipated from a player cut twice in such an unpredictable career. This wasn’t expected from a player from the Ivy League, an athlete who is probably smart at reading textbooks and studying the concepts of mathematics and law studies, but it happened all so quickly and now he has proven that he deserves a spot in the Feb. 26 All-Star Game. What’s unbelievable about Lin, of course, is he’s done things that’s never, ever been done before in NBA existence. Yeah, we should note he scored more points than any player in NBA history, since the 1976 NBA-ABA merger. Obviously, it feels like a fun-loving tale written each day in the league.

When Lin left us engaged and awed, he scored as many as 89 points in his first three games and immediately was viewed as the savior of the Knicks, but he’s not worthy of the All-Star game. That right there is shocking. When he left he had a shooting spectacle and enticed spectators at Madison Square Garden, as we not only witnessed his utmost performance to prove he’s a scorer with unprecedented accomplishments that can’t be ignored or else consider it an insult. It’s a disappointment, a huge disappointment if he’s not invited to the festivities next weekend when he scored an overwhelming 136 points in his first five games – to be exact.

That’s how well he has played – proving to me he’s a terrific point guard producing the unthinkable of something that’s never been done in league history, which means he’s All-Star material – whether you like it or not. There’s no sugarcoating that he’s 5-0 while scoring 20-plus points in five of those games. This has been a unique story in its own way, partly because Lin is Asian American and has lifted a lackluster franchise midway in the season that now seems hopeful. It’s a reason the Knicks have won all seven games, mind you, without the services of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire for most of them as well. That’s why you hear all the Linsanity of late.

It’s Lin, folks.

It means we should see Lin next Sunday playing in the exhibition game that no player ever takes seriously.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Jeremy Lin Comes From Out of Nowhere to Jolt NBA

He is absolutely for real. Real as he is advertised by the local media and New York tabloids. By now, the world is glued to Jeremy Lin -- the man of the hour, the latest phenomenon in the NBA -- scoring a career-high 38 points and leading the New York Knicks to a 92-85 victory Friday night.

When he made the grander statement than Kobe Bryant, arguably the greatest ballplayer of our generation, the roars were earsplitting and electrifying in the world's most famous arena -- the Madison Square Garden, of course, where he intrigued the world with a Linsanity masterpiece. The more he smiled and the further I was impressed with Lin's striking performance, I am left to believe that the swirling hype of Linsanity is not a fluke but real after all.

Everyone was standing on their feet in the Garden -- including the celebrities courtside, and witnessed the emergence of the latest commodity in the league. Uh, yeah, a star was born in New York. That star, indeed, was Lin, the first ever Taiwanese American to play in the NBA. If you didn't know Lin, you know him now after last night's surprising shot making and playmaking in front of a national audience to remarkably overawe us under the lights of the world's most renowned venue. But, as hard as it is to believe, Lin is coming into his own, not afraid to step into the spotlight for a demanding sports city that expects much from its star players.

If any superstar underachieves, well, then, the local media won't hesitate to criticize a struggling athlete, which places a tremendous amount of pressure on him as expectations largely are there. Playing in a city where much weight is on athletes' shoulders, the pressure and ridiculous hype has not bothered Lin -- the NBA standout from Harvard University, an Ivy League school best known for the starting point of U.S. presidency, or even the foundation for a career in the law offices of Jacoby & Meyers. The drama on Broadway, also known as Linsanity, is far from over. It's actually about Lin right now, if no one else, appreciated for turning around an underachieving team, doing it without an injured Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, who left the team on Monday after his older brother, Hazell, was tragically killed in a car crash.

Anybody who doesn't believe in Lin, that he's not convincing and nothing but hype because of his ethic background, wasn't watching him in the fast break or him burying mid-range shots Friday night. This is what I call his breakout performance, coming against a winning franchise with one of the all-time greats, the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe. Tempted as you are to doubt him, refusing to refer to him as a superstar or an authentic hero who could possibly save the Knicks disastrous season from suffocating, Lin is now everyone's new talking point. He deserves credit for 28.5 points and 8.3 assists during the Knicks current four-game winning streak, essentially doing it without Anthony and Stoudemire in three games.

He wanted to play in the NBA -- very, very much, obviously, and now he is soaring after he was given an opportunity in New York, where he's found a home and has been welcomed. So now, here is Lin, an Asian-American, who couldn't find a role in the league and had been cut twice before the Knicks picked him up. What Lin has done the past few weeks is unbelievable, which makes this such a sweet NBA novelty, capturing everyone's attention, seizing the fame on Broadway. When the suitors came calling -- and his services were useful to the Knicks as a fruitless team trying to find ways to reduce the misery and win games -- Lin was the kid, living the NBA dream. It's the best fit for him, able to start at point guard and prove to us nationally that he's an NBA star on the rise.

There's no doubt in our minds his Harvard classmates are studying the complex academic work in law school, but Lin is soaring in the NBA -- providing hope and much promise for the Knicks as we, by now, believe in the best story happening in basketball. All of a sudden, the Knicks are optimistic they can dismiss a bleak season of injuries and inconsistencies on defense, with the aid of Lin, who is now running the back court, setting up plays for his Knicks' teammates in which everyone around him is more efficient and better in coach Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo offense.

In recent weeks, he has taken the whole world by surprise, no doubt, the center of attention in New York, particularly after Friday night when he climbed from anonymity to stardom. What's not to love about Lin -- an exceptional player with finesse and a gift to play basketball? His presence alone, being that he's the first Asian American to play professionally, can inspire many Asian Americans to chase a lifelong dream in the NBA. For most cultures, as is always the case, it normally influence more kids to participate and become involve with the sport by sticking with it and never giving up.

It's been fun to watch Lin emerge in a game where many Asians haven't gained significant prosperity, but as we know now, he may have changed it for the better. There is not much talent in New York, without Carmelo or Amar'e, but Lin has brought energy and aspiration that was missing for the depleted Knicks, who were having an awful season until Lin arrived to rescue them from absolute destruction. Lin, ladies and gentlemen, is more than just a sensation and could very well be the next valuable point guard in the Knicks future, if he continues his impressive scoring and abilities to dominate flawlessly as the team's floor general.

This is all from a guy who was waived twice after the enduring lockout. This is all from a guy who came from nowhere and was in the fourth spot on the Knicks' point guard depth chart, but always refused to quit and found a home on the East Coast. The sudden rise has captivated Asian Americans and the NBA in general, the one player featured in headlines across the country for making the claim that he is worthy of establishing a foundation in the competitive market of pro basketball. He's dribbling the ball, shooting the ball, creating scoring opportunities, and before you know it, he'll be seen on the next label of an endorsement deal -- whether it's Nike or McDonald's.

And if he continues to play impressively, he could even be noticed globally and outside of America where he is now the talk all over, not only in New York but also nationally. What a night in the Garden, as roaring fans raised signs of him, quickly becoming obsess with the humbled 23-year-old guard, making a vintage Lin feel right at home. The noise of thunderous roars echoed through the building and fans shouted MVP chants, while he gave the spectators something to watch, something to be amazed by, something to cheer for when New Yorkers witnessed a revolutionary ballplayer, an assassin stunningly outscoring Kobe in a surprising duel. He finished the night -- and you can shake your head and blink your eyes in disbelief -- with 38 points and seven assists in a statement game.

This was supposed to be the night that Bryant have a shooting display at the Garden, where he once settled for 61 points to break Bernard King's scoring record for the most points ever scored by a player in that arena. This was supposed to be the night that Bryant outduel Lin. But on this evening, Lin exceeded all the hype on national television, averaging 76 points in his previous three games before meeting the Lakers. The Knicks, after winning four straight games, improved to 12-15 and certainly are in the playoff picture, as long as they keep climbing with Lin largely leading the team. All of this happened when he saw action against the New Jersey Nets on Feb. for which the Knicks had ran out of options at the point guard position.

And, indeed, Lin made the best of that opportunity, by scoring 25 points and amassing seven assists and responded rather strikingly that earned him a spot in the starting lineup. It's amazing to have to admit that he has scored 89 points, the most points among any NBA player in his first three starts since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-77. Although he's an NBA player working hard of late, he spends most of his nights on the couch of his brother's, a graduate dental student at New York University, but if he keeps delivering soft jump shots, spinning drives and skilled passes, Lin could potentially be signed to a long-term, million-dollar deal.

What we have seen is Linsane, a Lin-ing streak that has the New York folks buzzing in this empire state of excitement and surprises. There's so much hype, and buzz, the kind of attention surrounding a player for drilling 13 of 23 field goals Friday, including 2 of 4 from three point range. It's suddenly a good vibe at the Madison Square Garden, as Lin, the league's sensation who came out of nowhere, stunned Bryant on a night he finished with 34 points, hitting just 11 of 29 shots.

"I think it's a great story," Bryant said. "It's a testament to perseverance, hard work, and I think it's a good example for kids everywhere. I'm sure he's certainly put a great deal of work in. He's always had that belief in himself, and he just now has the opportunity to do it. I think it'll be fun for the city here, obviously. Once they get Melo back and Amar'e back, it should be a lot of fun here."

This is a great story, a tale of superstardom.

Early on, Lin scored nine of the Knicks' first 13 points, either scoring or passing on their first 15. As we've seen so often from the Lakers, they can't defend the pick-and-roll. The Lakers tried everything to disrupt him, but couldn't stop Lin's hot shooting in the Garden, bringing much fun to the spectators -- including director Spike Lee sitting courtside. By the fourth quarter, Bryant started to find his swagger and hit jumpers from every angle on the floor, but it wasn't enough to slow down Lin. He wasn't given a chance with the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets, but was given that chance with the Knicks, coming from out of nowhere to excite us, alarm us, and entertain us. The Rockets and Warriors now realize they both made bad moves by cutting Lin loose.

"He's not a fluke," Knicks center Tyson Chandler said.

No, he's not. He's on the rise. That's for damn sure.

When it was a bit too late, Bryant buried a double-clutch fallaway jumper and was foul for a three-point play that reduced the lead to 86-78 with four minutes left, but then came Lin attacking like a wild animal on the prowl.

After the Lakers had beaten the Celtics in overtime, Bryant said, "no idea what you guys are talking about" referring to Lin, who he played against last night.

I'm sure Bryant, including the whole world, knows who the hell Lin is now.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Austin Rivers Hits Thrilling Shot, But Still Bearing Growing Pains

Austin Rivers, at the end of a college hoops spectacular, was mobbed by his teammates, his father, Doc Rivers, among them, went nuts watching his son drill a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to beat rivals North Carolina 85-84 Wednesday night in Chapel Hill.

As the clock trickled, he pulled up, launched a rainbow three-pointer and stunned the Tar Heel folks, taking the air out of a building that suddenly went silent -- an instant classic to send the Duke Blue Devils right back to the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference. He is, indeed, a true freshman with much promise, choosing to play for an institution where basketball is truly a tradition on Tobacco Road in Carolina.

He could have chosen North Carolina, a school eight miles away from Duke, but he had the motive to play behind legends, the popular athlete on campus until he eventually ventures off for the NBA. As of now, Rivers has NBA qualities, drilling threes from professional range with guard capabilities -- scoring a career-high 29 points after providing the unbelievable finishing touches.

"This is the best feeling I've ever had on the basketball court," Rivers said. "This is the best feeling I've ever had."

And yes, this is one of the best finishes we've ever witnessed in college hoops. This appears to be more relevant, all because it happened during rivalry week, a moment when Duke and North Carolina-- the best rivalry in college basketball -- battled in an epic theater on a night that Rivers generated much buzz after making magic happen in a hostile territory where Duke is always unwelcome on their rival's home court.

And now, after that incredible buzzer-beater, he is most believed for developing into an athletic sensation and perhaps the top young player in the nation. Fitting enough, he plays for a school that produces artistic, admirable guards. The growth of Rivers, a more polarizing player in the nation maybe for the uniform and colors he wears, has led to an abundance of progression in Duke's sudden rise -- in position to be an overweighing factor in March.

In the meantime, he is playing his best basketball and might be the fundamental piece if Duke is indeed in contention during the madness in March. For this young group of guys, it could either turn out as March Happiness or March Sadness, but as we all know, anything is possible in a tourney of underdogs and spectacular basketball. It's a month of surprises, a time that we pencil in our teams on those elusive brackets, predicting on what teams are worthy of the Final Four. The rare athleticism is what separates Rivers from most players, and it wouldn't surprise me if he leads Duke in the NCAA tournament.

Without a doubt in our minds, he is a scorer and that alone tells us he's a star player at a prestigious university, where Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and a well-known basketball program have produced many NBA stars. It's hard to ignore weaknesses, as it might be a mistake not to address Rivers' fundamental flaws often underestimating his deficiencies as a player.

This, then, means he must learn to play within a team and not individually and mature over time. If so, and imagine if he does, Rivers will become the most dynamic offensive player in the nation and will generate buzz all over the country -- maybe even more so that he wears a Duke uniform when the vast majority of its games are broadcast nationally for the world to embrace and see.

What if he does forgo his college career after this season? This is a sampling of a future NBA star aiming for the professional ranks, and Duke suddenly has become a school of one-and-dones. He's the most terrifying and supernatural 18-year-old, reaching his potential at a school where the expectations are largely vital and where losing is considered a failure in the business of tradition and an abundance of legendary athletes who once played for Duke amid historically a few incredible runs. But I have to wonder about Rivers, because in truth, he's a pull up shooter and hogs the ball.

If you can pinpoint his downside, it would be his lack of commitment to play defense, and without him working diligently on defense, Duke is not such a well-balanced, skilled team. There's no denying that he's a flourishing player. The flaws, though he won it remarkably for the Blue Devils, eclipse his strengths, an almost punitive measure to keep him from excelling as the best player in the country.

It's that one shot, the game-winner that might be historic and go down as one of the exciting classics in sports. Good as he is, Rivers must mature a bit if he desires to become an efficient and complete ballplayer in Duke history, taking over for Kyrie Irving as the best athlete on the court. While the product of Duke is exhilarating and fun to watch, in the perfect atmosphere being in the presence of Coach K -- who is a teacher of the game and has cultivated his kids over the years with his craft and brilliance of coaching the game, Rivers still has to improve his shot selection and decision making. The excitement and emotion of Rivers' style on the court is from him pushing the tempo, driving to the rim, and distributing the ball to his teammates for open shots -- a dimensional guard to Duke's offense.

Without him, the Blue Devils are only, at best, an average basketball program. In most ways, he plays the role as a combo guard and his maturation has gently polished. The electrifying shot that everyone raved about immediately after Wednesday night when it took many by surprise -- reducing the volume in a noisy environment -- created enough buzz for one night. And everyone is waiting to see how he produces in March, in what would be Rivers' first NCAA tourney, a chance for him to strive for an NBA livelihood. Or he can opt to stay in school and elevate his collegiate status at Duke, as many before him have done in previous years. It's all up to him. It's his call. But, even though he's somewhat NBA-caliber, he still needs much improvement before he jumps into the NBA.

One shot doesn't confirm that he's ready to take on a tougher, harder task on the professional level. Maybe considering he's ultra-talented player who is a scorer and has ultimately a unique shooting stroke in his arsenal. And that's fine. But he's just inexperienced and an undersized shooting guard at 6-foot-4 who has to play more aggressively on defense. He's far from it, not even close to being a complete shooting guard, nonetheless, a work in progress as a freshman. He has to be more than just a deep-range shooter, if anything, and be well-rounded in every department -- performing through the emotions and getting past the challenges of stiff competition.

It's not the lack of potential or skill that is slowing down his process of establishing himself as the best player in the country, but it's the thought that he hasn't fulfilled much experience and defended his opponents, giving up too many points to the opposing team. Clearly, he committed to the right program and now is playing for Krzyzewski, who has built a bond with his players giving them unconditional love and opportunities to grow as he cultivate and groom his players.

There's undoubtedly a reason that Rivers decided to commit to Duke, not only for the education, but also for the noteworthy program where he can expand his style of play with one of the well-respected basketball coaches. While folks are reliving that thrilling, game-winning buzzer-beater -- Rivers -- and Duke as a whole -- are bearing with growing pains as they adjust to a completely new style. But he may have had his signature moment with a come-from-behind victory over No. 5 North Carolina -- trailing by as many as 13 points in the second-half.

The Blue Devils were on the brink of dropping a conference game against their rivals, but never stopped playing and continued to battle, pulling off a miraculous rally near the end that led to a gratifying finish with 13 seconds left. When North Carolina's Tyler Zeller missed a free throw for what would have been a three-point advantage, it was Rivers who received the ball, and certainly, he hurried down the floor and launched it from the perimeter. Sure enough, it dropped in. This happened after his teammate Seth Curry, who had 15 points, scored a three that cut the lead within four with 1:48 left. And then, moments later, Ryan Kelly hit a jump shot off his own missed three that made it 82-80. That created magic of a celebrated rivalry.

"Obviously this is my favorite win I've ever had in my entire life," Rivers said. "And it's because we were down the whole game. The whole game, we were down. They just kept it on us - 10-point lead, 10-point lead. And then there was 3 minutes left and probably everybody thought we were going to lose, and we just kept fighting. To get a W, it's amazing."

However, he's still a work in progress.