New coach gets right to work

May 8, 1997

Most of all, said Rick Pitino of his plans for the Celtics, "you don't pay any attention to what happened yesterday. You wipe the slate clean."

This player "might have faked an injury, that guy didn't work hard, this guy was selfish. What you do is forget all about it," said Pitino. "You forget about all of it and you start fresh."

Take a player such as Dino Radja, said the new Celtics coach. "Getting him to do something he hasn't done is what you want. We know what he can do - score - but can he rebound potentially? Then Dino has got to do it. Can he play defense? Then he's got to play defense."

What he and his coaches must do, said Pitino, "is convince Dino it's in his best interests to" rebound and play defense "and we need him to do it. I think once you tell a ballplayer it's in his best interests, they do it."

By 6:10 yesterday morning, Pitino knew for certain that taking the Celtics job was not a dream but now a reality. He answered the jangling phone, and it was none other than legendary Boston talent guru Leo Papile, an old pal from Pitino's Boston University days, "telling me there was a player in Yugoslavia who was great and we just had to have on the Celtics," said Pitino. " 'How do you spell his name, Leo?' I said."

Pitino promptly offered Papile a job as the Celtics' CBA and European scout - really to inform Pitino of every basketball player on the planet, "which Leo already knows, anyway," said Pitino with a big laugh. "That's what I like about Leo. He has no life other than basketball."

Pitino said he had talked to Larry Bird a few hours after taking the job Tuesday, "and I said to him how much we wanted him on the Celtics, that I wouldn't be the Celtics coach if it wasn't for him, that I was his choice. So it's just a matter now of whether he wants to coach" the Indiana Pacers "or not. Larry's got to decide which direction he wants to go."

Any hints from talking to Bird?

"No, I couldn't really read it," replied Pitino. "I don't know. No, I hung up the phone not really knowing, not knowing which way he was leaning."

Pitino will have many of his friends from BU, Providence College, and the Big East at today's press conference in Boston, and then he will stay in Boston for the weekend, return here "to pack up," and return to Boston to "start working on the draft, organize the office, and start meeting some people."

As all Celtics fans have known for weeks, Pitino realizes that Boston has roughly a one-in-three chance of winning the first pick in the NBA lottery May 18. And of course, he knows Boston needs a big man and he knows Wake Forest's Tim Duncan.

"Duncan reminds me of Brad Daugherty," said Pitino. "He's a little better shot-blocker than Brad, he has longer arms, but he's a very good passer, has a very good touch, a very good player."

And the Celtics' second lottery choice? Possibly 6-foot-7-inch Ron Mercer of . . . Kentucky?

"It all depends on whether we need Ron," replied Pitino. "Ron's a terrific talent and Ron's going to be a great player, but the needs are so great with Boston. More than anything else, big men . . . and we need a point guard."

In other words, Plan A if the Celtics win the top draft choice and Plan B if they don't.

As for the burden of the heavy contracts the Celtics have tied up with players Pitino might not want, "the first thing there is that I have to analyze it and meet the players. You know, a lot of times, you find out what people see in negative situations turn into positives if you motivate the players properly. Players who you don't think can play and show a poor attitude, you put them in a positive environment and show them hope and you show them promise, they can turn it around. But they've got to have physical talent."

Most of all, he said, Celtics players have to come to work every day. Pitino already has, in one day putting together much of his staff - his third assistant after already-hired Jim O'Brien and Winston Bennett from his Kentucky staff, possibly Pitt head coach Ralph Willard "among three or four possibilities," will be "a combination personnel man, advance scout, and assistant." All told, Pitino will have three assistants.

Eddie "Fast Eddie" Jamiel will be an assistant to Boston trainer Ed Lacerte ("I hear great things about Lacerte") and road secretary. Kentucky equipment manager Bill Keightley will follow Pitino to Boston from Lexington and become the Celtics' equipment manager.

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