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Avon Old Farms Grad Holding Court With Harlem Globetrotters

5/1/17
By BOB YORK
 
The New England Prep School Athletic Council has enjoyed a long and storied tradition of readying its student/athletes for the rigors that will be awaiting them on the collegiate level. In fact, it would probably be safe to say that the 184 schools that make up today’s NEPSAC rank and file have proudly watched thousands of graduates throughout the years move on to make their mark in the college athletic arena.
 
For some, success in the college ranks has been gauged by team honors. For others, achievement can be measured in conference titles and national championships. For a few, however, the level of competition will continue to stiffen, as the best-of-the-best have ultimately taken their game to professional and Olympic heights, where bragging rights over the entire world are up for grabs.
 
Despite the various echelons of success NEPSAC grads have enjoyed since the council’s inception in 1942, there appears to be one threshold that none of its alums has ever crossed.  From all accounts, no known New England prep school graduate has ever become a Harlem Globetrotter – until now. This past season, Latif “Jet” Rivers, a 2009 graduate of Avon Old Farms School in Avon, Conn., knocked down that door by showing he had what it takes to join this world-famous exhibition basketball squad that injects athleticism, theater and comedy into its dribble-and-shoot repertoire.
 
“As a basketball player, I always dreamt of playing professionally,” said Rivers, whose 535 points he scored during a postgraduate year at Avon set the single-season scoring mark for the Winged Beavers. “Growing up, I could never have imagined playing for the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters. I am honored and feel extremely blessed to be able to be a part of one of the most historical teams basketball has ever seen.”
 
Rivers, a 6-1 guard, may have spent just a single season at Avon before moving on to an outstanding career at Wagner College, but that was more than enough time for Avon coach Tim Roller to describe this future Globetrotter as a “phenomenal basketball player. Latif always talked about playing college ball, but I don’t ever recall him mentioning the Globetrotters. It doesn’t surprise me that they gave him a tryout, though, and it doesn’t surprise me that he made it, either. In addition to being a tremendous basketball player, he’s a terrific young man and he has an outstanding work ethic.”
 
Prior to Rivers showing up at Roller’s door, the Elizabeth, N.J., native played four years of varsity ball at Elizabeth (N.J.) High School, where he averaged 13.8 points his senior year and earned All-State, All-Conference and All-County laurels for his efforts. His point-per-game average only blossomed at Avon, where he poured in 21 points a game as well as five rebounds and four assists per outing, which would get him first-team berths on the All-Western New England and All-Tri-State Area squads.
 
“The PG year I spent at Avon Old Farms helped equip me with the necessary tools to really make my transition to the collegiate level a lot easier, not only as a student but as an athlete as well,” said Rivers. “Avon has a very diverse student population, so it also gave me an opportunity to further my skills in regards to being able to bond and connect with people that come from a wide range of backgrounds. That’s something that’s a constant as a Globetrotter, whether it be creating a bond with teammates from all over the country or connecting with fans from all over the world.
 
”During that PG year, it meant a great deal to me to have had a chance to play for Coach Roller because, to me, he was much more than just a basketball coach,” added Rivers. “Coach Roller taught core values and he held everybody accountable for their actions … with no exceptions. I have the utmost respect for Coach Roller and it was a pleasure to have played for him.”
 
Rivers, who graduated from Wagner in 2014, posted a standout career for the Seahawks, earning a spot on the Northeast Conference All-Rookie Team as a freshman, then followed up that effort by being named to the All-NEC squad twice during his career. He became the school’s 12th player to surpass the 1,500-point plateau – he finished with 1,513 – during his four years at the Staten Island school. That point total was aided greatly by the fact that he concluded his career at Wagner having registered 196 three-pointers and hit on 85 percent of his free throws.
 
“That’s the way he played the game at Avon,“ said Roller. “Offensively, Latif was a constant triple threat for opponents. He could score from the perimeter, he could drive to the basket and he was one of the most accurate shooters I’ve ever seen whenever he went to the foul line.”
 
“I was fortunate to have been seen by the right people and was able to spark their interest,” explained Rivers of his first crack at making the Globetrotters in early 2015. “Initially, I was signed as a World All-Star, which is the team that is configured with talent from all over to compete against the Globetrotters. Following a season with the All-Stars, I was again able to spark the interest of the right people, which helped put me in a position to become a Globetrotter last September.”
 
“After watching Latif play for a season on the opposition team, we decided he needed to be a Harlem Globetrotter,” said Sweet Lou Dunbar, the team’s director of player personnel. “He exhibited tremendous ball handling skills and a very nice jump shot and so we felt it was time to make him a Globetrotter.
 
“During his rookie year, he’s proven to be an outstanding member of the team,” added Dunbar, who played with the Globetrotters for 27 years prior to taking up residence in the organization’s front office. “He’s become one of our floor generals and because of his outstanding ball handling skills, he’s already become one of the team’s featured dribblers.” 
 
The Globetrotters have a much deeper pool of players than most basketball teams. Their roster consists of 30 players, but when you play up to 450 games a year on courts scattered throughout the world, you need a little depth on your roster. And so, to ensure having that many players to draw from, the team sponsors numerous mini camps every year throughout the country.
 
“My tryout was held in Philadelphia,” recalled Rivers. “It took about three hours, during which I was put through a number of physical tests and drills which allowed my basketball skills and abilities to be observed and evaluated. After that, I had a series of interviews with some of the coaches that helped them evaluate me from a character standpoint.
“For the most part, I’d say the tryout I went through for the Globetrotters was very similar to the ones that I had been put through in high school, at Avon and at Wagner,” added Rivers. “The big difference with the Globetrotters’ tryout is that the recruiting staff and the player development staff do an excellent job of constructing workouts that allow them to evaluate the type of talent that they’re interested in.”
 
In Rivers’ case, the talent Globetrotter officials concentrated on were his expertise for shooting and dribbling and the team has taken full advantage of those skills during his rookie campaign.
 
“Throughout the game, it’s my job to display my ability to dribble through the defense and create shot opportunities for me and my teammates, which tends to wow the crowd,” said Rivers.
 
“We also have a four-point line, which no other professional league has, that is located 30-feet from the basket,” he added. “I consistently knock down four-point shots throughout the games which also tends to wow the crowd, especially when I’m able to make those four-point shots on consecutive possessions.”
 
Looking back over the past eight or nine years, Rivers credits his time spent at Avon Old Farms as a critical year in helping him prepare for his future endeavors – and not just on the basketball court.
 
“Having been a student/athlete at Avon Old Farms prepared me for my future in so many different ways,” said Rivers. “Being away from home for that year taught me a different level of responsibility, accountability and independence, which really gave me the tools to excel at the next level on the court as well as in the classroom. It taught me how to manage and be efficient with my time.”
 
Although Rivers has been a Globetrotter for just one season, he already considers his brief time with the team as an incredible experience, is hopeful there’s more where that came from – and none of it has anything to with putting a ball through a basket.
 
“It’s been such a blessing to be able to touch the lives of people that you don’t even know and bring joy to so many families and people of all ages and cultures,” said Rivers. “In terms of expectations, I would say that it has definitely exceeded mine in regards to the effect that we have on peoples’ lives on a daily basis.
 
“Being a Globetrotter has helped me realize just how far even a gesture as small as a smile or a high five can go when interacting with people,” added Rivers. “I honestly believe that being a Globetrotter is a perfect fit for me because this is who I am. I’m very family oriented, I’m a genuine person and being from the tough inner city of Elizabeth, N.J., I understand first-hand the importance of positive influence and giving people hope to be something greater.”