Mr. Double Double: Senior Shooter Matt Rivers Is Force on Court

By MAX HART

With a wide grin and a deep laugh, Matt Rivers would be the first to say that he is not the most athletic kid on the court.

In fact, the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School senior would be happy to bestow that title on any one of his 11 teammates on the varsity basketball squad.

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Nor would he claim to be the tallest. That label belongs to E.J. Sylvia, who at six-foot-four has a good five inches on Rivers.

And he certainly would not claim to be the fastest. That distinction would go to his best friend, John Swan, who is usually the first one down the floor on the fast-break.

But while he probably also would deny being the team's most tenacious, most determined and ultimately most dominant player - instead heaping praise on pals Swan, Ben Madeiras, Jacob Vanderhoop, Tim Scott and Terrell Johnson - there is no escaping the truth of any of these tags.

Not this year, anyway.

"He is just a force on the court, he has such presence," says his coach, Mike Joyce. "Teams haven't been able to stop him."

"Matt's somebody who will play his game the same way no matter who we are up against," says Swan, a fellow senior and the team captain. "A seven-footer or three-footer, it doesn't matter. He's consistent."

"Since last year, he has developed into a leader on the floor," adds teammate Duncan Pickard, also a senior. "Obviously, he has shown how dominant he can be."

Dominant is perhaps the best way to describe Rivers's improved game, and this season the forward has redefined the term as it relates to basketball. Going into last Monday's game in Fairhaven, Rivers led the team in scoring and rebounding by reaching double-digits in both categories in each of the team's 12 contests. His incredible string of double-doubles also propelled him into the top ranks of leading scorers and rebounders in the South Coast Conference; he is currently averaging more than 16 points and 17 rebounds per game.

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And while Rivers's streak came to an end during the team's 58-56 loss to Fairhaven, he did not go down without a fight. He finished with 12 points and nine rebounds - a mere rebound shy of a 13th straight double-double.

"I don't know if it's ever been done here," athletic director Glen Field said of the streak. "There may have been other kids who have done it, but regardless, it is an impressive feat."

"You don't look at him and think he is a physical specimen, that's for sure," says Mr. Joyce. "But I think because of that, other teams underestimate him. What he has done is pretty amazing, especially in his first year in a new league."

Rivers has been especially impressive under the boards, where he has established himself as one of the league's best rebounders. At five-foot-eleven ("I don't know, I might be six feet," he jokes), he does not possess the height associated with prominent rebounders. But tenacity, a thick build useful for boxing opponents out, and a strong understanding of physics is the secret to his success.

"You have to position yourself the right way, my dad taught me that early," Rivers says. "If the ball is shot from the right side, 99 per cent of the time it will come off the left side. It has worked for me."

"His hands are unbelievable, the way he handles the ball," says Pickard. "He has such a good sense of where the ball is going to come off the boards."

But as quick as his teammates are to laud him, Rivers is just as quick to deflect the praise. Instead, he chooses to look back to the dusty basketball courts of his youth to explain his success now.

"I grew up with most of these guys and playing with them made me a better player," he says. "Ben [Madeiras] had a hoop and we always played there. I was the biggest, so they always picked me first."

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Along with Madeiras, Rivers grew up near Swan and Vanderhoop, each of whom lived in the same Oak Bluffs neighborhood. Rivers and Swan have been close since second grade, as have Madeiras and Vanderhoop, both juniors, who grew up next door to each other. The quartet spent summers on the town courts, learning each other's habits, tendencies and moves to the hoop.

"The parents joke that they are like ants with antennas," Vanderhoop's mother, Rachel, says with a laugh. "They just know where the other one is on the court without having to look."

By the time they reached junior high, Rivers and Swan were unstoppable. The Oak Bluffs elementary team was undefeated for the three years Rivers and Swan played.

Now seniors, the two have an undeniable chemistry that has raised the level of their games. Swan, a speedster, is a creator, stealing passes, getting the ball to the open man or, if he has a clear shot, shooting the three-pointer. Rivers hovers under the hoop, but can step out and make an outside shot as well.

With sharpshooters Scott, Madeiras and Johnson, the Vineyarders have a balanced attack. At 7-6, the team looks to build momentum, improve in the second half and make a run at the playoffs - the only thing Rivers says he cares about.

"When I got my 10th double-double here at home against Bourne, I thought that was cool," he says. "But I'm trying to make the playoffs my senior year. That's what really motivates me. I want the banner up on the wall."

Banner or not, Rivers will continue to generate buzz around the league (and, he says, hopefully get some attention from a few division three colleges) if he keeps throwing up double-doubles every game, something Swan says highlights the least of his talents.

"Everyone knows it is Matt's game," Swan says. "A double-double, that is just an average game to him now. I'm waiting for that triple-double."