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Rivers’ last stand

All-American Winter Park Wildcat forward Austin Rivers.

All-American Winter Park Wildcat forward Austin Rivers.

Isaac Babcock

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It’s hard to keep a team attitude when you have the top player in the nation. For Winter Park Head Coach David Bailey, that’s been a problem he’s dealt with for the past two seasons.

“They have to understand we have the No. 1 guy in the country,” Bailey said of his team. It’s a delicate balance between working together, or letting the Wildcats’ star forward run wild.

There is no stopping Austin Rivers. At least that’s what the game footage would have you believe. He jukes twice, left then right, drives to the basket like the two point guards in front of him weren’t even there, then posts the ball up into the hoop like it was pulled in by a force of nature.

A short description of his team’s state championship triumph last season could scarcely come together without his name. He rained down 23 points on the basket at the Lakeland Center to top Dr. Phillips on March 6.

Everything is looking up for the Duke commit and son of NBA legend Doc Rivers.

With an early string of tournament games already out of the way, he’s averaging 26 points per game against impossibly tough state and national-level competition.

But take a chance to talk to Rivers and there’s little hyperbole bolstering the image of a basketball phenom who has by many vaunted critics of the game been called the best high school player in the country.

There is no “I” when he talks about his basketball career. For 2010-2011, it’s a consistent string of “we” as he describes what it will take for 11 Wildcats, including himself, to repeat as champions. But there’s no shirking the weight of individual potential either.

Rivers already has his high school goal — a state championship — under his belt. But he has one season left, and with all eyes on him, the pressure of that crown weighs more heavily than ever.

“The pressure is on this year,” he said. “We’ve got to act like champions and play like champions.”