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Zenit Saint Petersburg sharpshooter KC Rivers has left his mark in Europe for the past decade

By Tom Ballato

Kelvin Creswell “KC” Rivers is a three-point marksman that has left his mark overseas for the past decade. He picked up a basketball at a young age and never looked back. Basketball was pushed on him and always in the cards for Rivers, the nephew of former NBA and overseas player Byron Dinkins, but Rivers was destined to write his own story.

Rivers played high school basketball at Independence High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, before transferring to Oak Hill Academy for his final two seasons. Oak Hill Academy is considered to be one of the best prep basketball programs in the country. Rivers won two straight National Championships at Oak Hill Academy and played alongside very talented players like Ty Lawson, Eric Devendorf, Josh Smith, Rajon Rondo, and Kevin Durant. This prepared Rivers for the next level.

Photo courtesy of KC Rivers.

He committed to Clemson over N.C. State, Tennessee, Virginia, Wake Forest, and Charlotte. Many of those schools were cautious after he suffered a broken foot in his senior year of high school. “I got hurt in high school, and teams dropped off; the coach from Clemson came to the hospital when I had surgery. He told me if I never played another day in my life, he would still honor my four-year scholarship. For me, it was loyalty over anything, so I chose Clemson off of that,” he said.

Clemson became home for Rivers for the next four years of his career. He would etch his name in Clemson’s history, becoming their career leader in three-point goals with 281, finishing third all-time in steals, and eighth in scoring with 1684 points. Rivers was known for his ability to knock down threes and shot 39% during his four-year seasons, but he did it all on the court.

He had many memorable games at Clemson, but two stand out to him the most, beating Syracuse in the 2007 NIT to head to the semi-finals and upsetting Duke by double-digit his senior year.

According to Rivers, he was on a few NBA team’s draft boards, and he worked out for about 13-14 NBA teams but did not get drafted in 2009. Rivers doesn’t have any regrets and has made a career for himself overseas.

In August of 2009, Rivers signed with AB Latina, a club in Italy’s second division. He played in ten games for Latina and averaged 24.5 points per game, proving he was ready to play at a higher level. After a brief stint with Latina, Rivers signed with a club in Italy’s top division. In 2010-2011, he began the year for Chorale Roanne in France and returned to Italy by the end of the season. Rivers signed a one-year deal with Lokomotiv Kuban of Russia in 2011.

Rivers played well during his first few years professionally. He played for clubs that participated in the EuroCup; the EuroCup winner qualifies for the next season’s EuroLeague. Clubs took notice of Rivers’ game, and in 2012, he signed with Khimki, a club in Russia that participated in the EuroLeague. The EuroLeague is the top European professional club competition, and Rivers was just getting started.

His career has mainly been in Europe with multiple stops in Russia, but in 2013 Rivers played in the NBA Developmental League. It was something different and a year to play closer to some NBA teams that had an eye on him. Rivers’ wife was also pregnant with their first child. The uncertainty with doctors overseas and the language barrier factored in him coming back to the United States to play basketball.

After a year in the United States, Rivers returned overseas to play for Real Madrid, who was in the top Spanish league and EuroLeague. Real Madrid had top overseas talent and a few former NBA players on the roster. In the previous two seasons, the club was in the EuroLeague finals but lost, and in 2015 they got over the hump and won the EuroLeague and the Spanish League. Rivers averaged 5.3 points per game and shot 41% three in EuroLeague competition.

He then spent two seasons with Panathinaikos, a EuroLeague club in Greece, winning the 2017 and 2018 championship titles and the 2017 Cup. Rivers moved to Serbian powerhouse Crvena Zvezda where they won the 2019 ABA League title.

The 2019-2020 season started with Rivers playing once again in the Spanish League for Real Betis. He appeared in nine games for the club before leaving to play for Zalgiris in Lithuania. Rivers was finally back in the EuroLeague after about two years. “It was a goal of mine to get back. I shouldn’t have been out of it, but it was something well needed. To get back in there to fill a part of something I’ve always been apart of was needed. It took some time to adjust, but we had a good season,” he said. Zalgiris won the Lithuanian championship with a record of 22-2.

When speaking about the atmosphere for the EuroLeague, Rivers said, “Every game is sold out. Every game counts. A lot of people in the states don’t know that you play from the first horn to the last horn. In EuroLeague, everything is done on a point system, and even if you are losing, you are trying to limit the points. It’s imperative to play hard from start to finish.”

Rivers signed a one-year deal to play for the Russian club, Zenit Saint Petersburg. The club is off to a solid start to the season with a 4-0 record in Russia’s VTB United League and has won back-to-back games in the EuroLeague, a feat they did not accomplish last season. Rivers is shooting 55% (11 of 20) from behind the arc.

KC Rivers with Zenit Saint Petersburg.

The 33-year-old veteran brings a lot to the table; he can defend, shoot, and get a basket when needed. He’s played for six EuroLeague clubs and now in his twelfth professional season. Rivers still has that passion and fire for the EuroLeague’s biggest stage.

Zenit Saint Petersburg made a great move bringing in Rivers, and he’s already paying dividends.

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