The curious case of John Riek

8 Jul

John Riek was once thought to be a top five prospect in the country. Now he's off to a Division II school. (PHOTO: NY Daily News)

By Justin Young
National Hoops Report

John Riek was playing college basketball last season. Did you know that? I honestly didn’t.

Now he’s leaving Mississippi State and looking for a Division II school to attend. Riek saw action in 25 games during his time in Starkville. His presence never warranted any kind of attention on a national scale.

How does a player that was once thought to be one of the top five prospects in America fall from grace like that? He played in 14 games last season, averaging 1.2 points and 1.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore.

Let’s rewind for a second. Riek came to the United States in 2006 from Sudan, shined at the Nike Hoops Jamboree and instantly became one of the biggest “where did he come from” stars the prep circuit had ever seen.

Everyone that saw him loved him.

Jerry Meyer, my colleague at the time of the Nike Hoop Jamboree, wrote:

“Both the top prospect and most intriguing player at the camp was the towering Riek. He arrived at the camp after players measurements were taken, but it looked as if Riek, a 2009 prospect, could possible touch the rim without leaving the floor. But even more impressive than his reach, Riek possesses good hands, good mobility and an aggressive streak. Riek ran down rebounds and scored off them as well as scoring off traditional post moves. With a strong fundamental base to his game, he keeps the ball above the defense and did not have near the turnovers you would expect from a player with his size and limited experience. Defensively, he is a game changer with his ability to both rebound and block shots. All indications during the camp are that Riek is on his way to making a living playing the game of basketball.”

Meyer continued from the LeBron James Skills Academy:

“Since the NIKE Hoop Jamboree, Riek has been one of the most talked-about prospects in the country. At the LeBron James US Skills Academy, Riek proved that his performance at the Jamboree wasn’t a fluke. Actually, he raised his level of play against the top big men in the 2008 class. Nothing short of a dominating presence on defense, Riek went outside of his area to block shots and snag rebounds. Offensively he is still a work in progress, but he consistently commanded a double team and handled the ball with poise on the low block.”

Riek was, and probably never will be, that kind of player ever again.

Understand this point: no one ever knew how old Riek really was when he played at the Nike Hoop Jamboree. He probably Danny Almonte’d us all.

“He has to be in his 30s,” one high-major coach told me one time. He wasn’t even joking. According to his bio, Riek was born Nov. 1, 1989, in Sudan. If that is true, Riek is 22 years old.

I had a great conversation one time with a NBA scout about peaking as a basketball player. He said this was the biggest element of a prospect that he looked for. I remember him telling me that the best time for a player to peak was 27. That was ideal, he said. However, very few players actually peak at the age of 27. Considering the average career length of the NBA player is less than five years, the odds are stacked against players from the outset.

The scout talked about watching high school players and determining whether or not they could get to six years in the NBA. I never forgot about that. This conversation was in 2004.

Riek, by this train of thought, has likely reached his peak assuming he is older than 22 years old.

So how does a player fall from grace like Riek did? He peaked. He peaked on the grandest of stages. Injuries slowed his progression. For most big men, injuries happen more often than guards and Riek was no different. His grand finale was technically at an event featured for 14, 15 and 16-year-olds.

The tale of John Riek is probably over. It has been for some time. He’ll likely be a reserve at the Division II level. He’ll get a sniff, I’m sure, for a summer league (assuming the NBA is back) one day.

He is, after all, a shrinking giant.

2 Responses to “The curious case of John Riek”


  1. AVC Picks Up Post and Power Forward « Antelope Valley College Men's Basketball - July 8, 2011

    […] […]

  2. Inside the SEC: July 12 « - July 12, 2011

    […] Young goes in depth on how Riek  seeming came out of nowhere to take the grassroots scene by storm in […]

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