It’s not every day that a player of the caliber of KC Rivers signs with an Israeli club, but that is exactly what happened when the 2015 Euroleague champion joined Hapoel Jerusalem last month as the Reds continue to look to improve and battle for the Israeli league title.
With the addition of the 35-year-old, Jerusalem now has seven foreign players on the squad, which means that two will need to sit out every game the rest of the way due to local league regulations.
However, Rivers brings a wide array of skills, talent and experience that is unmatched by nearly any player currently plying his trade in Israel or around the continent.
Rivers made a successful capital city debut this week in a razor-thin 89-88 win over Bnei Herzliya and while the American swingman may have been still working off the rust after having not played in quite a while, he made his presence felt with 10 points and nine rebounds.
“It’s my first game in a month and a half, an actual game and not a practice,” Rivers noted. “I’m trying to be familiar and find my way to be within the system. I definitely was tired and you could see it in that every shot I took was short, but of course I did hit some difficult ones. Everything takes time. These guys are special, they know how to play and know what they need to do and I am just fitting in as best as I can, not trying to overstep in any way.”
Fitting in of course is the name of the game and Rivers wants to do what he has done with so many other teams that he had played for over the course of his illustrious career to date.
From winning the continental championship with Real Madrid, to featuring with other European powerhouses in Panathinaikos, Red Star Belgrade, Bayern Munich, Zalgiris and many others, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native has oodles of experience to share with Jerusalem.
“My experience is keeping the composure around everybody. I’ve been in plenty of games like tonight’s and being part of teams where you have moments where you have to stay together when it’s tough.
“It’s never a time to panic as a game is 40 minutes long. Most people tend to panic when the game looks like it’s getting out of reach, but 40 minutes is a long time. Ten minutes each quarter seems like it’s nothing, but it’s a long time. Stay together, stay composed and stay within each other, stay within the team, is what you’ve got to preach and everybody needs to be on the same page each time.”
One of Rivers’ new teammates, Retin Obasohan, welcomed the wily veteran with open arms.
“His resume speaks for itself. He’s a vet and has tremendous experience and he has a very unique skill-set and he can do a lot of things on the basketball court both offensively and defensively. He’s a value to any team.”
Head coach Yotam Halperin was impressed with Rivers’s debut performance after coming off a bit of a break in action.
“KC arrived about a week and a half ago and he was home for a while and then in a lengthy quarantine. He was a +23 [in on-court point-differential] and almost recorded a double-double in his debut. He did this very quietly and efficiently. He still has to get into game shape and he has to get himself ready for this type of level of play, which is different from what he had been used to in the Euroleague.”
Rivers likens Halperin, first-year bench boss, to one of the best in the business, his own former coaches at Zalgiris in Lithuania, who was also once a top-level point guard in Sarunas “Saras” Jasikevicius who is now manning the sidelines with Barcelona.
“You got a former point guard looking at the floor as a coach,” said Rivers of Halperin. “Once a player, always a player. He sees the game in the light of a coach but he sees the game also as a PG. When you have those visions you make adjustments and it takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s a stepping stone for him and it’s a learning curve for him just as well as for us. That’s how you start in this profession whether you are playing basketball or whether you are coaching it, you have to start somewhere.
“It’s going to take time but so far he’s doing a good job, nothing is going to be perfect. But over time he will become more and more comfortable with the situation of being the head coach and you’ll see him take more of the reins and become better at this job. Look at Jasikevicius, it takes time and look at where he is now. I think Yotam is in a perfect position to be similar in that same way as an ex-player with that mindset.”
Rivers attended Oak Hill Academy High School in Virginia and then headed to play college ball at Clemson with the Tigers, where he was able to play in the NCAA Tournament in his junior and senior years.
Among his teammates during his time at school were former NBA power forward Trevor Booker as well as Jerai Grant, who played for Maccabi Haifa a couple of seasons ago.
After four years in college, Rivers headed to Italian second division team Latina in 2009, but quickly made a positive impression and joined first league Treviso after only 10 games. From there, Rivers made stops all around Europe with time in France, Russia, Spain, Greece, Serbia among others.
Most recently, Rivers had been playing with Bayern Munich in the German BBL league as well as the Euroleague but ended his time with the club for another opportunity that fell through at the last minute, which ended up allowing Jerusalem to snatch up the consummate professional. As always, one man’s loss is another man’s gain.
“Some unforeseen things happened that were very unexpected. I was fortunate enough that Hapoel took a chance on me and gave me this opportunity. Sometimes things happen for a reason. I’m very blessed and happy that I have the opportunity not to sit idle and dwell on what could or couldn’t be and continue to play basketball.”