Maybe Bill Fitch had the right idea the other night. He was politely answering questions about his rookie star, Kevin McHale, who had played a key role in yet another Celtic victory. Each wave of reporters begged for words of praise, and, frankly, Fitch was getting tired of repeating himself.
"Let's just say that Kevin has played a couple of good games back to back," Fitch finally summarized. "But I'm not going to be the one who stands here and praises him. I'm the one who has to coach him. He's a good player, but I know he can be an even better one."
It came as no surprise that Wednesday night's postgame interview, which was shown on the large in-house television screen for the fans at the Capital Center in Landover, Md., featured the 6-foot-10 rookie from the University of Minnesota. McHale had sunk the two clutch jump shots that put the finishing touches on a 101-99 victory over the Bullets.
What was surprising was that more people have not caught on to the fact that McHale is developing into a more solid pro than the more publicized players who were taken ahead of him in last year's draft - Joe Barry Carroll of Golden State and Darrell Griffith of Utah. Though he's still playing in a reserve role, McHale has made the most of his chance to learn his trade without being in the pressure cooker that normally affects a No. 1 draft choice. He is a better player because he has adapted quickly to the pro game and the role the Celtics are asking him to play at this point in the season.
"The kid has a knack," veteran analyst Bob Cousy was saying. "for the pro game. He's intelligent and is learning his trade very well. He's not afraid to take the shot, and, when the ball goes inside, he knows what to do."
Fitch's manner of handling players, especially young players, hasn't always left McHale happy. Despite his shot blocking talents (sixth in the league with a 2.15 average) and growing confidence in his shooting, Fitch doesn't hesitate to get after his prize rookie.
"Yeh, I heard him shouting at me the other night," said McHale. "It made me mad. But maybe that's why I began to play hard. I have no quarrel with the coach. He's shown confidence in me, and I know if we're playing our big lineup and doing a good job on defense, he's going to leave me in there. I wasn't doing anything special on those two shots I took against Washington. The play was supposed to go inside, and I just happened to be the one who had the shot. That's the way it is with this team. The players here are very unselfish."-
The New Jersey Nets, led by Maurice Lucas, will be at the Garden tonight (7:30 p.m., WBZ) as the Celtics go for their third straight victory. It will be Larry Bird poster night, with the first 10,000 fans receiving an action photo. It will also be Toys for Tots night, and gifts will be accepted in the lobbies before the game and at halftime.