Last year’s yellow-frosting of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera’s black hair is shorn off. In fact, much of his hair overall has been removed. The highlighted flattop has been replaced with tighter styling. A throwback to more successful times.
“The last time I had a haircut like this, we won the Big East championship,” Smith-Rivera said.
It’s fall, and Smith-Rivera is standing in the lobby of Georgetown’s McDonough Arena. That he would be present in October was in doubt at the end of March. The point guard declared for the NBA draft then. Georgetown distributed a press release with the news. Smith-Rivera intended on hiring an agent, leaving the riverside campus and trying to become a pro.
He had scored in double-digits during back-to-back seasons. Smith-Rivera’s efficiency also grew during the same period; assists were up, turnovers down. His field-goal percentages remained solid. Rebounding was still a strong suit.
The move, for a time, made sense to him. Offensively, he felt ready for the NBA. Georgetown coach John Thompson III supported him, even if he withheld his opinion. Thompson was prepared to help Smith-Rivera no matter his choice. His father, Mateo Rivera, understood the thought.
“My dad was on the fence about it,” Smith-Rivera said. “Of course, he wants me to graduate, but he believed in my talent.”
His mother, Kelana Rivera, was more hesitant. When Smith-Rivera chose to attend Georgetown, his mother was excited that he would be the first in the family to graduate from college. Now, he was going to put that on hold.
“At the time, I just felt like I was ready,” Smith-Rivera said. “I had prepped up until that point. I had worked on countless thing to try to develop my game, and I felt like I was ready.”
He still worked out at McDonough with teammates. They were just pursuing different goals. At times, he hedged. Talks with best friend Bradley Hayes, one of only two other seniors on the Hoyas’ roster, about what to do took place in the gym and off campus. They had discussed the decision before the information was pushed out to the public. After the announcement, they rehashed the topic.
“He told me the things he wanted to do in college, and he hadn’t accomplished them yet,” Hayes said. “I told him I had the same goals in mind. When he told me he planned on leaving, it kind of discouraged me because I knew we could use him to achieve a lot of the goals.”
Smith-Rivera thought about his mom’s wishes. Had he gone through all those courses at Georgetown just to leave without a degree? He looked at the incoming freshman class. A trio of four-star recruits seemed promising. Past failure was also a consideration: Twice in his three seasons, the Hoyas had won one game in the NCAA tournament, then been dismissed. His freshman season, Georgetown was ranked as high as fifth before being a victim of “Dunk City,” Florida Gulf Coast, in the tournament. It did not sit well.
So, he changed his mind. Smith-Rivera estimates his dalliance with NBA life lasted about two, two and a half weeks. Putting off a dream is never an easy choice, even if it may be the best option.
“The beauty of going from college sports to pro sports is I don’t have to tell him that, because the pro guys are telling him it might be in your best interest to put that on hold for another year,” Thompson said. “He had to make a decision. I’m not going to sit here and say it was an easy decision, but it wasn’t necessarily a hard decision, either.”
Thompson does not recall how he received the news. May have been on the phone. May have been during a visit in his office. He deadpanned that his reaction was, “Yippee.” Thompson had a levelness when assessing the Smith-Rivera’s decision-making.
“I think he went through what I call a normal process,” Thompson said. “If someone has had the career that he has, is the player he is, at that point, you should explore and see what your value is and see what is the right decision for you. It really was just an information-gathering time.
“That’s not to say people always make the right decision after gathering information, but it was information-gathering time and I think he made the right decision to come back. He’s going to get his degree. He’s going to be one of only a handful of people who could be all-Big East three years in a row. He understands that we can be OK this year.”
Smith-Rivera’s return means he now works as an elder. When he was younger, Otto Porter and Markel Starks gave him guidance. Through the preseason, younger players have approached him for advice about plays and about campus life.
“They come to me on the side instead of going to coach all the time,” Smith-Rivera said.
Georgetown opens the season on Saturday against Radford. It plays at third-ranked Maryland on Nov. 17, where Smith-Rivera will cross paths with Terrapins point guard Melo Trimble for the first time. A game in New York against No. 17 Wisconsin follows. No. 5 Duke is likely next. Old friend Syracuse visits in December.
Games like those are the reasons to be back. As are the promise of a new season, the pending degree, making mom happy. After all, one doesn’t just cut his hair for anything.