Yesterday afternoon, 2021 NJCAA All-American and Western Junior College Athletic Conference (WJCAC) player of the year Rivaldo Soares announced his decision to commit to the Oregon Ducks, where he’ll have three years of eligibility remaining. The 6’6” New England native spent the past two seasons at South Plains College in Texas, where he led the program to an Elite 8 appearance as a sophomore. As Soares was quick to point out, Oregon’s recent track record of developing JuCo products into NBA players played a significant role in his ultimate decision.
In this interview, Soares discusses what else led him to make the move to Eugene and peels back the curtain a bit for Duck fans in order to provide an idea of what they’re getting in Rivaldo Soares the person, not just the basketball player.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present Rivaldo Soares, from Boston, Massachusetts:
Pro Insight: Off the top, how did you get to where you are today?
Rivaldo Soares: Well, I’ll start off with high school. When I first started playing, I can’t lie, I wasn’t too serious about basketball. I really took for granted my first couple years of high school which led to my academic problems. From there, I was never really heavily recruited because the first thing a coach is going to ask about a high school kid is, “what are his grades like?” and that was always the problem for me. So I wasn’t really heavily recruited in high school and knew I had to take the JuCo route around my junior year. I fell into the lap of South Plains (TX) with the help of Ty [Boswell]. Over these past few years I’ve really developed off the court as a man. I got my academics together and you gotta grow up. Especially going to JuCo, it’s trenchy, it’s a grind. So the last two years I’ve just been grinding and building my resume so I could have the best offers...better offers than I had in high school. I know the type of caliber of player I am so a high major was always the goal for me. That brings us here today, I’ve just been grinding in JuCo.
PI: How impactful was your experience playing for Expressions Elite on the EYBL circuit?
RS: I played against plenty of dudes who are in the league right now and played well against them and beat a couple of those teams. Expressions, I’m thankful for them because they stuck with me throughout my whole high school career. That was a great platform for me to show my talents. My last year with Expressions I basically played the whole year hurt, both ankles sprained. So I didn’t really have the best last year, but it was one of the best years of my life. AAU is just fun man, I wish I could go back to just traveling with your guys, playing against competition day in and day out. Like EYBL isn’t easy, you have to win. Winning is the only key to success there. We made Peach Jam two years in a row, I made it on 16Us and 17Us. Definitely got to play against some dogs.
PI: Can you speak specifically about your time at the JuCo level? What did you learn? How did you grow as a player and as a person?
RS: When you get to college it’s not like high school, you get a lot more free time on your hands. In high school, I wasn’t really bought into the time off the court. So there was plenty of time here to lock in and I spent most of my time just trying to get better, whether it was with my coaches or my teammates. I came here in the summer, so I’m here at a new school with nobody on campus so it was just a grind. I’ll never take these years for granted. I’ve developed a lot here at JuCo and that speaks to a lot of my coaches, but these JuCo years bro…trenchy, real trenchy. It’s not for the weak. Definitely not for the weak. So 100% built me into the man I am right now and it’s definitely helped me on the court.
PI: You’ve just announced your commitment to Oregon — what were the most important factors in that decision?
RS: I would say the first thing was probably play style. I know my fit. I think I’m a versatile player, positionless, and I can guard. The way they play, they play positionless basketball. I just love their style of play. With the coaches, it was really easy to communicate with them. A lot of the time you feel like some coaches are just annoying sending you texts all day, but with them...one of the assistants, Mike, he did a really good job building a relationship with me. Coach Altman also did a good job building a relationship with me, they did a hell of a job recruiting me. So I would definitely say play style came first. My connection with them felt genuine, and they also had a really good track record with JuCo players. Coach Altman has coached JuCo, Chris Duarte who is in the NBA draft this year, he was a JuCo product. So I’ve seen people go from my situation to Oregon and succeed. Why not me next?
PI: How much of a challenge did the pandemic present while you were going through your recruiting process?
RS: This is a crazy year...with the pandemic everything was definitely a little harder. Coaches couldn’t even come see us play. So recruiting is going to be slower because of that. They can’t come watch you in person, everything is just film and film. I thank them [Oregon] because they were low key taking a chance on me. They were doing that with all of the kids they were recruiting because they couldn’t see anybody play in person.
PI: How surreal has it been to be getting all of this attention from college programs?
RS: Man it’s what I dreamed of since high school. It’s one of those feelings I wanted in high school and let it slip through my fingers. I came in here freshman year knowing I had to do two years and knowing I would only have two years left to play D1, but luckily this year they’re [NCAA] giving it back, so I’ll have three years eligibility. It’s crazy, I’ve been excited to annouce. Once I made my decision I wanted to post it right then and there. It’s been two long years just waiting and I really didn’t get any attention until closer towards the tournament. A couple schools would hit me up, but it was nothing crazy. So it all just came at once and it’s like you said, surreal. I don’t even have the words to describe it. This is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life — get to this moment and play high major D1 and get better. I appreciate all of this, all of the people that backed me, Ty [Boswell], Expressions — they made it easier for me because this isn’t an easy process at all, I’ll tell you that.
PI: Who did you turn to for guidance during the process?
RS: My coaches from back home: Coach Steve from Boston, Ty Boswell and Expressions.
PI: What sort of advice did they give you?
RS: Well from both those coaches they’re going to tell you, “it’s your decision man and you’ve got to find where you fit best” and that was the number-one thing for me — not just going somewhere because of the name. I’m not just going to Oregon just to go to Oregon. I’m going there because of the style of play and best fit. And that was really my top key into picking where I was going to go…along with who they have leaving and who they have coming. It just seemed like my best option.
PI: What was their most consistent message to you throughout the recruiting process? What did they try to convey?
RS: Definitely what stood out, is — well, I haven’t got there yet, but I’m looking towards the future, I’m looking to be a pro one day and they’ve produced them. They’ve produced them from JuCo and their key was they want to get me better. They want to develop me as a player so I can be like those other guys that came through the program. So player development was probably in the top-three keys along with best fit and playing style.
PI: What was Coach Altman’s reaction when you told him?
RS: He said it’s the best news he heard all year [laughs]. He seemed excited and I’m excited. He’s was waiting for me to announce it, they had some things lined up they were going to post. So it’s all-around excitement. They can’t wait for me to get up there and I can’t wait to get up there.
PI: Did you get to know any of the current Oregon players during the recruiting process?
RS: Nah I actually didn’t. I’ve spoken to De’Vion [Harmon] who transferred there from Oklahoma. That’s the only person I’ve spoken to.
PI: For fans that have never seen you play, outside of, perhaps, videos, how would you describe your overall game? What should they expect? What do you bring to the court?
RS: Expect a dog. Expect a winner. That’s what I’m worried about is winning. Jack-of-all-trades, versatile player, can shoot, guard 1-through-4. I’m here to win and I’m trying to be a leader, too. That’s what’s come with my game everywhere I’ve been — high school, Expressions, and then here at South Plains. I want to be a big part in winning.
PI: Do you model your game after anyone in particular?
RS: I don’t. Not going to lie, I don’t. I’m just playing. The way I play is Rivaldo Soares, can’t put nobody else’s name above that. I’m trying to be myself. I’m trying to have kids in the future model their game after me.
PI: What will be your focus between now and when you get to campus?
RS: Definitely staying in shape and getting better. Just because I’m not at school, it doesn’t mean I can’t get better. Staying on top of my game and keeping my body right so when I do get on campus there’s no setbacks. I’m ready to go.
PI: Lastly, do you have any message for Oregon fans who are thrilled about your commitment?
RS: Always us. Coming in to win, man. Rest in peace Terrence Clarke.