RADFORD — It should not be a surprise that Lydia Rivers is the leading rebounder in the Big South Conference.
After all, the Radford University women’s basketball standout is not the first member of her family to exhibit a knack for snaring rebounds.
Rivers is the daughter of John Rivers, the sixth-leading rebounder in Virginia Tech men’s basketball history.
“He was just telling me the other day he was ranked in the nation in rebounding back in the day,” she said. “He goes, ‘You haven’t caught me yet.’”
The fourth-year junior forward is a big reason the Highlanders are on a school-record 12-game winning streak and atop the Big South standings. The 6-foot-2 Rivers is averaging 10.9 points and a league-high 10.0 rebounds.
“I knew she was going to be an athlete ever since she was in kindergarten,” said John Rivers, 49, who played both basketball and football for the Hokies. “She’s always been taller than everybody else.
“Her jumping ability is what amazes me. … She’s got a lot of the same athletic prowess and ability that I had.”
This has already been quite a year for the family.
Lydia’s older brother, Derek, is a defensive end for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. She and the rest of the family were in Atlanta this month for the big game.
If Radford wins the Big South tournament next month, there will be another championship to celebrate.
“I don’t know if our rings will match his,” she said. “They’re Super Bowl rings!”
John Rivers grabbed 903 rebounds, scored 899 points and blocked 108 shots for the Hokies from 1988-92. The 6-5 Rivers also spent three seasons moonlighting with the football team as a tight end, receiver and special-teams player.
Lydia Rivers grew up in Kinston, North Carolina. In addition to her brother and younger sister, she has an older half-sister on her father’s side.
Lydia is three years younger than Derek. As a kid, she played on her brother’s flag football team, which their father coached. She was the only girl on the team.
“She was really good,” Derek said. “She played running back — scored a lot of touchdowns.”
Lydia and Derek used to have basketball duels with each other.
“I loved competing — and competing with him especially, trying to beat him,” she said.
John Rivers and Lydia’s mother, Mary Leinonen, divorced when Lydia was in elementary school. John Rivers later moved back to his hometown of Moncks Corner, South Carolina. But Lydia said her father remained “very involved” in her life.
“He was probably the reason I was able to get here because he signed me up for travel ball,” Lydia Rivers said. “He was really into the sports with all of us.”
Her father taught her how to dribble a basketball. After Radford began recruiting Lydia, John Rivers took her on an unofficial visit to the school. Back when he played for the Hokies, he used to visit Radford for parties and basketball scrimmages.
Lydia tore the ACL in her left knee in an AAU tournament the summer after her junior year of high school, but Radford coach Mike McGuire continued to recruit her. Rivers signed with Radford in the fall of her senior year of high school, picking the Highlanders over Big South rival Campbell.
Rivers started for Radford as a freshman in the 2015-16 season, averaging 4.8 points and 8.1 rebounds. She made the Big South all-freshman team.
Her 2016-17 season was cut short when she again tore the ACL in her left knee in an early December game at UNC Greensboro. She sat out the rest of the season as medical redshirt.
She averaged 7.1 points and 7.7 rebounds as a backup last season, when Radford advanced to the WNIT for the second straight year.
Radford lost forwards Janayla White and Jayda Worthy to graduation, so Rivers moved back into a starting role this season. She ranks third on the Highlanders (19-6, 13-1) in scoring and ranks 38th nationally in rebounding.
“She has long arms, so she uses that to her advantage as far as trying to tip the ball away from the opposing team and getting that rebound,” said John Rivers, who is now a metallurgist for a steel company.
She had nine points and 14 rebounds in a nonleague win over Virginia. She has recorded 10 double-doubles this season, including three outings with 17 points and 16 rebounds (wins over Winthrop, USC Upstate and High Point).
“She’s probably the most athletic forward I’ve ever coached,” McGuire said. “She has an incredible ability to get off her feet really quickly. She’s very instinctual — she has the ability to see a shot and really read the flight of the shot. She has a relentless ability to go get the ball.
“She is the best rebounder I’ve ever coached.”
On Tuesday, she sank two free throws with 32 seconds left to give Radford a 45-44 win at UNC Asheville.
“She’s having an all-conference year, and I think she’ll be in the discussion for maybe player of the year,” McGuire said.
Lydia talks to her brother at least once a week.
Derek was a second-team All-American at Youngstown State, which lost to James Madison in the FCS championship game when he was a senior. He was chosen by the Patriots in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
He tore his ACL in his first training camp with the Patriots, so he spent the 2017 season on injured reserve. The Patriots lost in the Super Bowl in Minneapolis, but Lydia did not join her family there because of her basketball obligations.
Derek was healthy for the 2018 season but saw action in only six games. He was not on the active roster for the Super Bowl, although he was on the sideline.
This time, Lydia was able to attend the Super Bowl. After helping Radford win a Feb. 2 game at USC Upstate, she left with her parents for the Super Bowl in Atlanta.
The family was in the stands to see the Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams on Feb. 3. They attended the team party afterwards.
“It was an awesome experience,” she said. “It was pretty fun, and celebrating after was really fun. … It was just really cool because my whole family was there.”
On Saturday, it will be Derek’s turn to root his sister’s team on. He and his wife will be on hand for Radford’s Senior Day game against USC Upstate.
Lydia, who is on track to graduate in May with a degree in exercise science, will take part in the pregame ceremony. She has another year of eligibility but has not yet decided if she will play for Radford as a graduate student next season. Radford does not have a master’s program in exercise science, so if she stays at Radford she will have to choose a different area of study.
John Rivers will be on hand Saturday, too.
Has Lydia become the best basketball player in the family?
“I can probably get him now,” she said. “Maybe.”