Athlete Spotlight: Alex Rivera ‘18 - Lowell - Boys Basketball
By Nate Weitzer for Mass Prep Stars
When Lowell HIgh School guard Alex Rivera first picked up a basketball, it was love at first sight.
“I saw the first shot go in and I just wanted to keep seeing them go in,” Rivera recalled. “Since then I’ve been in the gym almost every day of my life working on my game and trying to become the best player I can be.”
A junior combo guard and the clear-cut leader of the 16-5 Red Raiders, Rivera averaged 23.3 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, 3.4 assists per game and 1.8 steals per game throughout his stellar Merrimack Valley Conference MVP regular season.
He’s taken on a much bigger role for a Lowell team that won the Merrimack Valley Conference and advanced all the way to the D1 North Final last season before falling in a close game to eventual state champion Cambridge.
Yet last year’s leader Sean Bryan graduated and Rivera’s potential running mates in Quest Harris and Sidi Diallo both opted to transfer to prep schools this offseason, leaving plenty on the Lowell native’s plate.
“When Quest [Harris] told me he was leaving I knew that I had to be the point guard of the team, so I started working on my handles even more,” Rivera explained. “I came into the season with the attitude that we couldn’t slack. I believed in this team and I told everyone to stay humble, keep working and not listen to any outside noise.”
There wasn’t much hype around a Lowell team that lost all four starters aside from Rivera heading into the 2016-17 season, but the Red Raiders won nine of their first ten games ahead of a matchup with rival Central Catholic.
In a rare off game for Rivera, Lowell shot a combined 4-of-28 from three-point range in a 55-42 home loss to their rivals, but exacted some revenge one week later with a 63-56 win at Central Catholic and kept rolling with a huge win over Methuen the following week to make a push for another MVC regular season crown.
Rivera was everywhere in the Red Raiders latest win over Metheun, posting 33 points with 12 rebounds and six assists in a true all-around effort that affirms his commitment to taking on more responsibility as a floor general.
“I believe that [Rivera]’s passing ability has been highly underrated since last year,” said Lowell head coach Bob Michalczyk. “His development in terms of making the right pass or the right play even when teams try to trap him, is great, and he has an uncanny ability to find people under duress.”
His passing ability may only have been overlooked because Rivera is such a fantastic shooter.
As a freshman, he earned his way onto varsity as a lockdown defender, who could also knock down open shots when the defense collapsed on Sean Bryan.
The following year, Rivera broke out offensively while scoring 15 points per game and he carried the Red Raiders to a state tournament victory over Methuen with 35 points on nearly perfect shooting from the field.
He credits his rise in scoring to his new jump shot, which is more of a one-handed release than the two-handed approach he used as a freshman.
For a fourth-year head coach in Michalczyk, it’s been fun watching Rivera’s game evolve each season.
“We’ve had to developed a lot of freshmen at early ages,” Michalczyk said about Rivera’s early development. “[Rivera] stood out and didn’t play like a freshman so we didn’t treat him like one. A lot of it had to do with natural ability. He works very hard in the offseason, so it’s no surprise that he’s greatly improved each year and while he’s always been a good shooter, now he’s a phenomenal shooter.”
Rivera developed that work ethic at an early age when he began playing basketball at the age of six. His older brother, Angel, pushed him to compete against bigger players and Rivera explained how he was eventually able to win individual battles with his brother by the time he was 14.
That same year, Rivera moved up from the New England Storm AAU team to the highly touted Mass Rivals Elite program and began playing against some of the best competition in the nation between high school seasons.
Still somewhat undersized as a 5-foot-9 underclassman, Rivera had to prove to his AAU coaches that he could find a way to score and defend against truly elite athletes.
“We marveled at [Rivera’s] ability to score, rebound and win at his size,” said his Rivals coach, Tom Nelson. “You can’t categorize Alex [Rivera] in any position, he can just flat out ball. He works tirelessly on his game, he’s fearless on the court and if I need someone to take a big shot I call on Alex.”
Spending summers on the national AAU circuit helped Rivera hone his ball-handling skills and made the transition to a role as point guard this season a bit easier.
Of course, his high school coach never doubted Rivera’s ability to adapt.
“[Rivera] has always had a knack for the game,” began Michalczyk. “He had good instincts and was an all-around great player even as a freshman. He was our best ball handler coming into the year, so we started to put in more plays that facilitated towards his strengths.”
While his performance on the court became more integral to the Red Raiders success, Rivera’s intangibles and leadership qualities became even more vital this year since Lowell has been starting two freshmen, and has several sophomores in the rotation.
“His leadership is probably his greatest improvement,” Michalczyk effused. “Last year he was only asked to play defense and make shots, and this year, we’re very young and he kind of just got thrown into that role as our leader. But he’s made great strides, hasn’t gotten discouraged, and directed those younger players, which has been a very positive outcome.”
Alex Rivera 2016-2017 highlights
Now Rivera has the Red Raiders in position to earn a top seed in the upcoming state tournament, as those who doubted his squad have only served as motivation during his breakout season.
“We were doubted because we lost four great players, so it’s hard to expect the same level of success,” Rivera admitted about Lowell’s prospects entering the season.
Yet thus far, the Red Raiders have surpassed all expectations, while their star guard is surpassing the expectations of college scouts.
Rivera just received his first collegiate offer from Division 2 program Merrimack College, but he has his sights set even higher. He recounts that his dream since middle school has been to play Division 1 college basketball and anticipates a lot more attention from scouts a the next level during the remainder of this high school season and the upcoming AAU spring season as well.
In order to fulfill that dream, Rivera is considering a prep year at preparatory school, but before that, he hopes to lead his hometown team to glory.
“This is probably going to be one of my last seasons and hopefully we can end well, see how far we can go, and make Lowell proud,” Rivera concluded.
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