Tigers’ Jimario Rivers Has Head Start On Doing the Dirty Work

By Don Wade

Jimario Rivers, one of two returning Tiger basketball players who got on the court last season, says he likes the team-first, want-to-win attitude he sees of the team so far. (Joe Murphy)

When Josh Pastner recruited Jimario Rivers from Southwest Tennessee Community College, the University of Memphis coach envisioned him as a small forward who could play some at the four.

After Pastner left for Georgia Tech and Tubby Smith became the basketball coach, Rivers initially thought that would still be his role. He provided some spark off the bench, but then 6-11 Chad Rykhoek got hurt and Rivers was starting and basically playing the role of a 4/5 player – at 6-8 and 195 pounds.

“Really I was just trying to get on the floor,” Rivers said recently, adding that he wants to play at 205 pounds this season, even if the salad he had just eaten for lunch somewhat belied the get-bigger strategy. “Getting minutes was my thing. I wasn’t worried about what position I played. I was just playing basketball. I’m used to guys being bigger than me trying to bully me.

“Coach had faith in me and liked my energy.”

As the season played out, Smith’s bench got shorter and shorter. Rivers wound up averaging 6.4 points and 3.5 rebounds. His 22.1 minutes per game ranked fifth on the team and his 27 blocks were second to Dedric Lawson’s 68.

As has been well documented, Rivers and starting point guard Jeremiah Martin are the only returning Tigers who got on the court last season. If that puts this year’s group in an “us-against-the-world” mindset with an emphasis on doing all the little things that help win games, Rivers has a head start on that.

Even before last season started, Smith singled Rivers out for his defense. And Rivers took note of what drew his coach’s ire.

“I don’t really don’t like taking charges,” said Rivers, “but I took a lot of charges. Just stuff that, if I’m not scoring the ball, I could get it back on the defensive end. In practice I remember coach got onto one of the walk-ons about not taking a charge straight in the chest. So I didn’t want to be an example. So I just started stepping up and taking them straight in the chest.”

The stoutest guy that rolled him? Semi Ojeleye of SMU, who goes 6-7 and 235. Pretty much all muscle. Got him at FedExForum and at SMU.

“Freight train,” Rivers said.

His tallest challenge, literally, was 7-foot-6 UCF center Tacko Fall. When Rivers lined up for the jump ball at the beginning of the game in Memphis, he stared at the tower above him, and made a logical decision. He didn’t jump.

“Can’t see no point,” he explained afterward.

The Tigers have a lot of new players this season and Rivers’ hope is that he will be able to play more at his natural position. Pick-up games have started and Rivers and Martin, as the only holdovers, are trying to build chemistry.

He likes what he sees so far, including a team-first, want-to-win attitude. Once real practice begins, and competition for playing time and roles starts to take shape, he hopes that will continue and guys will figure out what he did.

“I just had to play whether I was getting the ball or not,” said Rivers, who led the Tigers with a 56.9 field-goal percentage, but attempted just four threes all season. “I just had to play with a high motor, not taking plays off.”

And when needed, stepping in front of a freight train.