Lee County senior JJ Rivers is averaging 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots per game for the Trojans. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
LEESBURG – The small, adorable blond-haired boy who used to follow his father at Hugh Mills Stadium on Friday nights is all grown up now. And he’s a pretty good basketball player, too.
Lee County senior JJ Rivers may be more known as the ball boy or the water boy to most high school fans in Southwest Georgia. Or many just know him as “Henry’s son,” in reference to his father, Dougherty County athletic trainer Henry Rivers.
And the younger Rivers hopes to one day follow in his father’s footsteps as an athletic trainer.
But first, he hopes to help the Trojans to the state basketball tournament for the first time since 2007. The 6-foot-5 standout has played an integral role in helping Lee contend for a postseason berth. The Trojans play their final two home games this weekend, entertaining Thomas County Central tonight before meeting Harris County on Saturday.
Lee County coach Kirven Davis said watching Rivers play has been rewarding. In just his second season as the Trojans’ coach, Davis said he remembers the “skinny kid” during football games at Hugh Mills Stadium.
“He would tag along behind his father,” Davis said. “The equipment bag was bigger than JJ.”
When Davis took over, he said Rivers was a very good shooter who could sink 3-pointers with accuracy and played solid at guard. But his 6-foot-5 frame could have been better used.
When football standout Stephen Collier, last year’s post player, decided to enroll early at Ohio State, it meant the Trojans would be looking for size inside. That’s when Davis’ experiment began.
“Stephen leaving early was kind of a blessing in disguise for JJ,” Davis said. “So we took his guard skills to the post position. There are very few players in our region who can step out (from inside) and shoot the 3-pointer. There are very few centers that can dribble well enough to take somebody to the basket.”
He has been a lethal combo for the opposition, scoring underneath or drilling an outside jumper. He is averaging 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocks per game.
The senior used to play other sports such as football and baseball. A broken bone in his elbow during middle school sidelined him and he spent several months rehabbing with his father. That’s when he developed a desire to become an athletic trainer, too.
He’s heard his father tell stories of taping former LSU and Los Angeles Lakers standout Shaquille O’Neal’s ankle during one SEC Basketball Tournament, as well as taping NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan’s ankle.
While the younger Rivers hasn’t ever been asked to perform trainer duties in high school, he has had a hard time stepping out of his father’s shadow. Henry Rivers has been the athletic trainer in Dougherty County for more than 15 years and is highly respected.
“I love hanging out with dad and he’s influenced me a lot,” JJ said. “I want to be as good or better than he is.”
He said he plans to attend Valdosta State University and major in sports medicine, but he has a few more weeks to enjoy playing basketball.
Like his father, he’s well respected among his teammates and peers. He excels in the classroom and when he’s not studying or playing, he spends a lot of time with his youth group at Providence Church.
His teammates see him as a player on whom they can depend.
“We had chemistry together last year and we really helped each other through that class,” Brandon Bothwell said. “We’ve been playing since ninth-grade, and he has made a big improvement.”
Amir Williams has been playing with Rivers since elementary school when they played in the Upward program. He said Rivers has diversified his game and will be tough to defend down the stretch.
“You pick your poison with him … either you step outside when he shoots or you get worked on in the post,” Williams said. “He’s always been good at basketball. This year, he’s really come out.”
Not bad for a small, skinny kid who used to watch other players do the same.