Radja takes center stage

May 28, 1997

Those dreaming up deals involving Dino Radja may be wasting their nap time.

Not only has new Celtics coach and president Rick Pitino told him he's part of the team's plans, but Radja would likely choose his homeland of Croatia over another NBA city should a trade be attempted.

"All I want to do now is play for the Celtics and win games," Radja said yesterday when he stopped by Brandeis as the club was working out Colgate's Adonal Foyle and Iowa State's Kelvin Cato in preparation for the June 25 draft.

"I need to win games. That's the only thing keeping me here."

That's "here," as in the United States. Radja still feels the pull from home, having just returned from Croatia and planning to go back in another month or so.

He doesn't want to tour the NBA (though a persistent rumbling of interest from Chicago may alter his stance).

"I don't think there will be any trade, but I probably wouldn't go anyway," said Radja, who has been told to get ready to play center. "I talked to Rick Pitino and he said he doesn't want to trade me. I want to be straight with him, and I want him to be straight with me. And that's the way I think this is. After all the (expletive deleted) that's gone on here, there are some things this team and I have to prove. I've been through too much here to go away now.

"I don't need statistics. I don't need money. I don't need sympathy. I just need wins. If I didn't think we could do that, I wouldn't be here. I would just go back home. I really don't need anything but to win."

Having made $ 5.3 million last season and scheduled to make the same for 1997-98, Radja is beyond playing for the money. Though he said he is willing to adapt to any system (and he likes the one Pitino is installing), he will be very strict with himself.

When his left knee was slow to respond after surgery this past season, Radja contemplated retirement.

"There was a point where the knee wasn't getting better, and I just couldn't take that," he said. "If I can't play the way I want to, then I don't want to go out there and dog it. I don't need to be here if I cannot do the job. It was very frustrating for me when I was out. I thought about just going back home to Croatia."

But the knee is better, and so is Radja's outlook on the Celtics.

"I know about Rick Pitino. He has been successful on every level, and you have to respect that," he said. "All the changes that have been made really needed to be done because it just couldn't work out the way it was."

And Radja is prepared for what Pitino may ask.

"I am just here to see my backup center," Radja said with a smile as he headed upstairs to watch potential draftee Foyle go through his paces.

"Really, I think the change is going to be very good for me. I like to run. That's not a problem for me. The only thing I'm going to need is some help playing center, but if we play good team defense that will work out. If you don't play team defense, it doesn't matter who you are, you are going to get beat.

"This team is ready to change now. No one wants to go through what we have been. The last couple of years, by the middle of the season, we knew our chances for the playoffs were low or zero. But a lot of things are going to be different, and you can see it just from the things Rick Pitino is doing already.

"I like what he has to say, and I want to be here when we show people how we can really play."

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