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Rivera Is A Long Shot, But Only In A Good Way

By Steven Marcus

December 14, 2003
Copyright ©2003 Newsday. All rights reserved.

Hofstra freshman Carlos Rivera was all set not to be in Hempstead.

He grew up in Puerto Rico, where his grandfather made him a basket from scratch. As Rivera and his game matured, he sought a broader stage.

Rivera realized that college recruiters would not flock to the Caribbean. "They don't see you there like they see you here," he said. So he and an older sister established residency in Miami for his junior year of high school. "The whole plan was to go to Florida and then go to a big school," Rivera said.

Rivera blossomed at Miami Christian. He set a state record with 131 three-pointers in only two seasons. He averaged 21.9 points as a senior in 2001-02, and the 6-2 Miami Scoring Machine had some big college suitors.

Memphis coach John Calipari showed up in the gym to see 6-8 Ivan Lopez, whom he later signed, and inquired about Rivera. "I told Carlos to go to halfcourt," said Arturo Lopez, Rivera's coach. "He shoots 10 jump shots and he hits nine. He [Calipari] looks at me like I'm out of my mind."

Calipari said that story is slightly apocryphal. "He was one step across midcourt," he said. "This kid really could shoot the ball. Who is this guy just bombing away?"

Calipari said he didn't have an opening for Rivera. Meanwhile, New Orleans and Jacksonville were hot for the Long Ranger. A visit from Hofstra assistant Van Macon kept the school on Rivera's radar; it was reinforced when former Pride standouts Rick Apodaca and Jason Hernandez, both of whom have played in Puerto Rico, urged Rivera to attend Hofstra.

Rivera liked being in Florida and selected Jacksonville. But he didn't achieve the required SAT score. He spent last season at Bridgton Academy in Maine, where he would improve his grades and hone his skills.

Jacksonville and New Orleans still wanted Rivera, but Hofstra pursued and persevered. Macon made several treks to Maine. "You have to make an effort to get to Bridgton," Macon said. It is certainly the road less traveled. Galoshes help.

Rivera walked into a winter of 20 straight days with temperatures at least 20 degrees below zero. But he averaged 20 points and, more importantly, scored about 40 points higher on the SAT.

"Everybody who called me said Hofstra got a steal," Bridgton coach Whit Leisure said. New Orleans was disappointed to be beaten out by Hofstra. Patrick Harrington, the recruiter at New Orleans, said: "He had three schools that loved him. If he waited, he would have had more."

Rivera, the first Hofstra freshman to start since Speedy Claxton in 1996-97, had his career game against St. John's with 20 points. He tossed in five three-pointers. "If he was able to do that night in and night out, he'd be All-American by next year," point guard Gibran Washington said.

Rivera knows the college game is harder than that. "I was excited but I knew the season wasn't over yet," he said. In his next game, he missed his first seven shots against Columbia but made the last three, including the winning one: a three-pointer at the buzzer.

His shooting difficulties continued yesterday as he went 2-for-7 in a 70-69 loss to Stony Brook University. But coach Tom Pecora will let Rivera keep firing away. "You've got to let shooters shoot; otherwise they lose confidence," he said. "It is important for him to be on the floor for us."

Rivera is a zone-buster but has to learn to overcome the pressure of man-to-man defenses. After yesterday's five-point effort against Stony Brook, he is averaging 9.9 points and has a team-leading 17 three-pointers (35 percent).

Rivera said he has no regrets about his college choice. "Hofstra always kept in touch with me, always wanted me," he said. "They were like a family."

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