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Side trip enables Doc to make a checkup

Indiana fans expect big things from coach Tom Crean and guard Jeremiah Rivers. Indiana fans expect big things from coach Tom Crean and guard Jeremiah Rivers. (File/Darron Cummings/Associated Press)
By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / December 28, 2010

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — After making the 52-mile drive from Indianapolis, Doc Rivers entered hallowed Assembly Hall last night not as the Celtics coach checking out NBA prospect Talor Battle of Penn State. He was there as a Hoosier dad, watching a game during his son’s senior season.

Jeremiah Rivers and the Hoosiers dropped a 69-60 decision to the Nittany Lions in front of a disappointed crowd in their Big Ten opener. This was the year Indiana, after years of rebuilding following the Kevin Sampson debacle, was supposed to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth, and home games against Penn State are must victories.

Not last night, however, as the Hoosiers dropped their third consecutive game. While Jeremiah’s younger brother Austin has received most of the attention in the family for being the No. 1-rated high school basketball prospect in the country, and sister Callie is an outside hitter for the No. 1-ranked University of Florida volleyball team, Jeremiah has toiled in Bloomington with little fanfare. He had 4 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in 24 minutes.

Doc Rivers watched attentively, sitting about 15 rows above the Indiana bench as Jeremiah was trying to contain the guard duo of Battle and Tim Frazier. Jeremiah is 23 and has NBA aspirations, and the significance of his father’s attendance was not lost on him. Doc Rivers conducted Celtics practice in the mid-afternoon and then hustled to Bloomington in time for the 6:30 start.

“Seeing him always hypes me up,’’ Jeremiah said after the game. “He always makes efforts to show up, especially this year. This is my last year playing college and obviously I’ll be going forth and playing ball, hopefully in the NBA. But right now, he knows these times are precious. You don’t get these back with your kids, and he’s already been to five games, darn near double what he did last year.’’

Rivers nearly left coaching last summer to spend more time with his family, and this year he is being stretched even more with youngest son Spencer playing junior varsity basketball at Winter Park (Fla.) High School near Orlando, while Callie’s team reached the regionals of the NCAA Tournament.

The coach called a meeting in early July to assess the family’s feeling on him taking a hiatus. All four children voted against him stepping away.

“I felt like that would be selfish of us to take him away from what he loves,’’ Jeremiah said. “We don’t feel like he’s hurting our family. My mother [Kristen] is a strong woman, she’s been holding down the fort darn near 10 years now. So we know what the deal is, we know he’s providing for our family and we know he really wants to be at our games. It’s not like he’s trying to do better stuff.

“He came to my championship games in high school. He’s taken private jets at 2 a.m. to get to our games the next day. I know it’s difficult. It’s tiring. It’s stressing, but he loves us. The biggest thing is we all understand.’’

So this trip was a rather easy one, given that the Celtics are in Indianapolis tonight to play the Pacers, and the two will switch roles, with Jeremiah sitting in Conseco Fieldhouse. Jeremiah is not intimidated by being the offspring of a former NBA standout and championship coach. The younger Rivers offers his father suggestions during and after games and has spent extensive time competing against Austin, who will play for Duke next season.

“You know, I’m up here in Indiana and I have never seen Austin play a high school game in my career,’’ Jeremiah said. “For a fact, I know I’m going to make it down to one game this year. I just want to see the boy play. I’ve helped mold his game over the summers, try to get him better. The same with my sister and little Spence, he’s coming up, too. The special thing in our family is our awareness of how to live together under these circumstances.’’

Having four children living in three cities and living in another city is not easy for Doc Rivers. While the Celtics were crushing the Bobcats Dec. 11 in North Carolina, Jeremiah’s Hoosiers were playing at Kentucky, and Callie’s Gators faced Purdue in the third round of the tournament a day before. Doc flew to Chicago on the team’s offday Dec. 12 to visit family and friends, but he was stuck for several hours in Charlotte because of inclement weather.

“Everybody just sees the high life, the money, the fame, the cars, all that good stuff, but you don’t get to see that a lot of families break down because of these things, a lack of communication,’’ Jeremiah said. “We don’t let jealousy or anything get in the way of us. We understand.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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