Randallstown coach Kim Rivers

The Baltimore Sun

You won't find the road that Kim Rivers has traveled marked on any Atlas or available on any Global Positioning System. After all, how could you logically map a path that winds from the hustle and bustle of New York to suburban Missouri to Melbourne, Australia?

And the funny thing is that the last turn, the one that landed Rivers as boys basketball coach at Randallstown, has been the unlikeliest and the most rewarding.

Rivers, perhaps the area's most successful boys basketball coach, says he didn't expect to be at Randallstown this long.

But the road takes funny turns, and before you know it, 14 years go by, you win three straight state titles (and five overall), you get to help turn boys into productive young men and, all of a sudden, the view looks pretty good.

"What I like about [Randallstown] is, for me, I have an opportunity to work with a lot of young men, not just my ballplayers, but a lot of youth in the community," Rivers said. "I try to help these young men understand that basketball is a tool to help them get an education, not the other way around."

Basketball has been good for Rivers, 44. He has a 308-49 record and an .863 winning percentage, the best in the area among coaches with 12 years or more of experience.

His Rams (16-3) are ranked fifth in The Sun's poll and are the top seed in the Class 2A North region, opening defense of their championship at home last night against Edmondson.

Rivers, who was an NAIA All-American at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., near Kansas City, played professionally for three years in Australia before returning to the United States.

An experience with racism on the streets of Manhattan convinced Rivers that he wanted to live in the suburbs, and in 1994, he came to Randallstown, where he inherited a team that had lost to Douglass in the regional final the year before.

"They had unity. They had a focus and a goal," Rivers said. "It wasn't really hard to get them to buy into what I wanted and my philosophy."

The years have gone by, and while the influx of transplanted Baltimore City residents heading up the Liberty Road corridor has brought the challenges of an urban sensibility to the suburbs, the championships have kept on coming for Rivers.

This year's team, with talented guard Tione Womack and forwards Marcus Jeter and Alex Jackson, contains "the nicest group of young men" Rivers has coached, he says.

But while the players are nice, Rivers says his kids, who lost the Baltimore County championship game Feb. 26 to Woodlawn, have a sense of entitlement they haven't quite yet earned.

"They're kind of living off the legacy," Rivers said. "They haven't won a state championship, but they're walking around school at times saying, 'We play for Randallstown. We won three straight state championships.'

"Well, half of them never played varsity basketball before [this year]. I try to explain to them: 'This is a whole new team. You haven't done anything. That was done by your peers. If you drop the ball now, you're the team that didn't win the championship.' "

Rivers, who was selected to coach a team of local stars against players from around the country in next month's Charm City Challenge, could probably coach for as long as he wants at Randallstown, where he has established a power that perennially is in the state-title hunt.

But Rivers acknowledges that he has wondered whether there isn't a bigger challenge out there for him, one at a school that is allowed to travel whenever and wherever it wants, that can recruit and can play as many games as it can squeeze in.

After winning all those games and championships in such a short period while essentially handcuffed by rules many consider arcane, not to mention watching others in your area who aren't so restricted, who wouldn't wonder what it would be like to coach on a bigger stage?

The trouble is, once you find a route that is comfortable, it can be hard to find another that yields the same rewards.

"I love Randallstown," Rivers said. "I love what I've started here. I feel committed and dedicated to these students, to the community and to my teaching. It's a Catch-22. But I always have to think about what is my next goal. Have I done everything that I can for Randallstown, and is there something that's going to give me more thirst and hunger in this coaching realm?"

It's a good thing, then, that Rivers' road hasn't taken its last turn.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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