Rivera Already Creating a Buzz at UMass Lowell
The UMass Lowell men’s basketball team has only played one home game early in this 2018-19 season, but people who were in Costello Athletic Center for that Saturday afternoon tilt 10 days ago will tell you that there was a palpable buzz.
A major reason for that excitement was the debut of the hometown kid, who chose UMass Lowell over his many other Division 1 suitors. Freshman guard Alex Rivera wanted to stay put and continue to play in front of the countless supporters who watched him blossom into the all-time leading scorer at Lowell High School before graduating last spring.
Rivera is a young man filled with confidence and purpose, on a seemingly endless journey to make Lowell proud. And just five games into his college career, he’s doing what he’s always done on the basketball court -- he’s making sure you know who he is, and what he’s capable of.
The 6-foot-1 Rivera has burst onto the scene by averaging 15 points (second on team) and 3.6 rebounds in 27.6 minutes per game for the 3-3 River Hawks. Those stats have come with efficiency that is off-the-charts impressive for a freshman, shooting 60 percent from the floor and 46.4 percent (13-for-28) from 3-point land.
On Monday, Rivera was named America East Rookie of the Week, one day after scoring a career-high 20 points off the bench in a win over Sacred Heart. The transition from the Merrimack Valley Conference to Division 1 college basketball isn’t supposed to be nearly as smooth as Rivera is making it look.
“Alex is off to a great start to his college career,” said UML head coach Pat Duquette. “He really is an elite shooter with great elevation on his shot. What sets him apart, in my mind, is his lack of fear. He loves to compete, wants to win, is very coachable and is a great teammate.”
You really can’t ask for much more than that from a freshman.
But this is no surprise to anyone who watched Rivera during his time at LHS. He posted Herculean state tournament efforts against state powers Cambridge and Everett in 2017 and 2018, respectively, that almost resulted in upsets and proved that he’s unafraid of any opponent or any moment. Rivera has a unique toughness and desire to be great.
Loyalty goes a long way in Lowell. If you love the city, the city will love you back. And this city loves Alex Rivera.
“That first home game against Wagner, there was buzz in Costello I have not seen in a long time. The anticipation of a Lowell kid’s first game at UML was electric,” said Jimmy Borodawka, who also starred as a guard at Lowell High and then UMass Lowell in the mid-1990s. “The stands were full of people from the city, people who wanted to see one of their own do well. Some of my fondest memories were seeing people from the city coming to games to show support when I played. It’s special.
“There’s a certain pride people from Lowell have, an understanding of what it means to grow up in the city and how hard it can be to stay focused on your goals. Reality is, there’s a lot of very talented people who simply fell off track. Alex represents that pride, he works very hard on his game, he wants to be a great player, he wants to represent the city well.”
Borodawka now serves as a color commentator on UMass Lowell broadcasts, but he’s been familiar with Rivera for quite some time.
“When Alex was a junior at LHS, Bob Boehm, who keeps the stats for LHS, approached me at a UML game to tell me that there was a kid at LHS who was going to break my PPG and most-points-in-a-season record that stood for 25 years,” said Borodawka. “I had not been to a game since I graduated in 1992, so I went to see Alex play to see how good he was. Reality is, there are a lot of kids that score a ton of points that can’t actually play the game, but after about 10 minutes watching him play it was obvious how good he was. The kid has a very special ability to score in a variety of ways.
“It’s only been five games, but after seeing him play, and more importantly seeing him in practices -- learning quickly how to defend at the college level and do things other than score -- there’s no question he’s got a chance to be as good a player at UML as anyone’s been, regardless of the city they came from.”
In an age when position-less basketball is becoming more and more the norm, Rivera fits the mold. He can handle the ball and distribute well enough to run the point, he’s exceptional off the ball as a shooter coming off screens, and he’s potent in an iso because of his athleticism. He’s listed at 6-foot-1, but he’s probably closer to 5-foot-11. Either way, he’s a handful for any defender.
One of the basic principles in college recruiting is to always take care of home. To that point, Duquette and the UML coaches did very well by not letting Rivera slip away. Of course, it helped that Rivera wasn’t interested in the letters that came from Saint Louis, or UMass, or Marquette, or Jacksonville, or anywhere.
On Friday, Rivera and UML will be back at Costello to take on Division 3 UMass Boston. It’ll be the day after Thanksgiving and it’ll be freezing outside, a perfect opportunity to see what the buzz is all about.
Follow Matt Langone on Twitter @MattLangone