If Duke is indeed a 2012 national title contender, freshman point guard Austin Rivers will be a major reason why.
The Blue Devils are young. They're without national champs Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith for the first time in four years. Kyrie Irving is likely to be the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA draft. In their place, Rivers -- the No. 1 player in the class of 2011 -- and a touted batch of incoming Blue Devils will try to come together in time to make a run at Duke's expected level of national success.
That will be a challenge, because this team is new. How new? Even coach Mike Krzyzewski isn't yet sure how his team will play.
In other words, Rivers is going to have to be good. He'll be a centerpiece of this team, arguably its best player, and like the rare breed of one-and-done player most believe him to be, he'll have to eschew immediate growing pains to do so.
So maybe it's a good thing the young fella doesn't seem shy. Or maybe not. Your mileage may vary. Either way, Rivers has already announced what number he'll wear at Duke and what corresponding nickname he'd like. Naturally, he chose Twitter as his preferred messaging method Monday night:
Wearing number 0 next year! My nick name is going to be subzero! Cause of number and because my moves freeze people, got ice in my veins!!
I have to say: I love the nickname. It references Mortal Kombat, which is something we apparently share in common. (Second Mortal Kombat reference of the day! Not too shabby.) It works beautifully in tandem with Rivers' number choice, which is always a plus. It's catchy, it rolls off the tongue ... what's not to like?
Apparently, the notion that Rivers gave himself the nickname. In doing so, Ballin' Is A Habit's Troy Machir argues, Rivers has committed a fundamental hoops faux-pas:
You cannot give yourself a nickname. It's practically an unwritten rule of the schoolyard.
Dwayne Wade didn't tell people to call him "Flash". Earvin Johnson didn't legally change his name to "Magic". Harrison Barnes didn't ask people to refer to him as "The Black Falcon". And as much as we probably want to assume that LeBron James anointed himself "The King", some dorky high school kid probably did.
That is what makes nicknames so cool. A great one is never thought about, it just happens.
True story: I have a friend who, in high school, asked that we all start calling him "Shooter." According to him, the name came from his freshman football coach, but the sheer act of him asking to be called something -- even though the nickname sort of caught on -- was a constant point of lighthearted ridicule. It remains so to this day.
In other words, maybe Troy has a point. Apparently, Rivers heard the same thing from a multitude of Twitter followers. On Monday night, he issued his response:
My friend gave me the nick name and the reasons for it, I thought it was cool! Haters going to hate, I don't see yall
So maybe Rivers didn't give himself the nickname after all. I say we let it slide, guys. What's your verdict?