10.12.2013

Battie May Be Growing on Them

June 25, 1997

Tony Battie is drawing a lot of attention and interest these days. Just last week, the entire Celtics basketball brain trust went to Philadelphia to see him work out. Philadelphia, Vancouver, Denver, and possibly New Jersey all have made, or may make, the same visit.

All of this is new - and expected. The recruiting process for Battie simply came three years later than it did for others his age, so he's unaccustomed to the clamor. But he knew it was coming; this time around, he is in demand and a valued basketball entity.

Battie is the Tim Duncan Alternative in tomorrow night's NBA draft. He's 6 feet 11 inches, still may be growing, has abundant athleticism, and will not last long when the picking starts. He could go as high as No. 2. Few believe he'll be around at No. 6 when the Celtics are scheduled to make their second selection.

He blossomed this past season, averaging 18.8 points - more than doubling his output from the year before - and 11.8 rebounds for Texas Tech, helping the Red Raiders to a 19-9 record. He broke his own school record for blocked shots (71 in 28 games). He had big games against the better Big 12 teams, hitting Colorado with a 31-point, 17-rebound performance and then lighting up Kansas for 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots.

Well before Battie declared for the draft, scouts already were drooling. Larry Bird came away raving about the kid from Lubbock. Marty Blake, head of the NBA's scouting service, said Battie could be an instant starter for just about any lottery team.

All of this has been old news for some time. None of it was even remotely possible or predictable three years ago when Battie, barely recruited out of South Oak Cliff High School in Dallas, made one college visit and decided to go to Tech. He was a spindly, 6-7 small forward. He was from the same alma mater as Dennis Rodman, but Battie remembers, accurately, that it was Rodman's sisters, Debra and Kim, who were the real hoop stars in high school.

His basketball resume to that point was three years long. Period.

"I was just a schoolboy," Battie said. "Then, my brother started playing and I always hung with him so I started, too. I always wanted to do what Derrick did; he's my big brother. There was so much competition between us. Then, he got a scholarship to Temple and then I got a scholarship. That was the beginning of Tony Battie."

It also didn't hurt that he grew 4 inches while in Lubbock. The small forward became a power forward/center and, more important, he did not lose any significant coordination. David Robinson went through the same thing in college.

"The first year he showed up, he's already grown 2 inches to 6-9," said Texas Tech coach James Dickey. "He grew another inch as a sophomore and another as a junior. Before this season, I expected Tony to be here four years and to develop into a good NBA player. But I think now that he is coming out at the right time. He may not be physically ready, but he made the right decision."

Battie's story gets new life tomorrow night, possibly in Boston. Yesterday, Celtics hoop el jefe Rick Pitino listed Battie as one of three players the team likely will take with the third choice (the others are Chauncey Billups and Keith Van Horn). While Battie is not as developed as Billups, he has that magic code word: upside.

"He's a tremendous athlete," Pitino said. "He runs and jumps as well as anyone in this draft. He needs physical development. He plays long, above the rim, and he's going to be an excellent shot blocker and rebounder."

Hmmm. Sounds like he'd make a nice fit here. The Celtics need most of what Battie has. Battie believes he has what the Celtics need.

"I'm a confident person," he said. "I learned that by working hard, good things will come my way. I've improved every year since I started playing. I'm bigger, stronger, and better than ever. But I also understand that there's still a lot of work to do."

Mostly, the work has to be done on Battie's 230-pound frame. Pitino mentioned that yesterday. Blake said the same thing. So did Dickey. "He's got to add some bulk and some strength," Dickey said. Battie has been working with a strength coach in Philadelphia, where he is sharing an apartment with his brother. Derrick Battie played basketball in Italy last season.

"He's got the weight," Battie said. "I've got the height. He's only 6-9, but he's got the strength and the muscle. Looking at my brother's body, I know the weight and strength are going to come. And my doctor has told me I haven't stopped growing yet."

Pitino said he believes Battie's natural position is power forward, "but he can play some center for us." Dickey believes Battie is a natural power forward.

"For him to play center in the NBA, he'd have to put on an awful lot of weight," Dickey said. "He's quick and athletic, but the way he is now, those bigger guys would just push him off the block. He played mostly with his back to the basket for us. He's going to have to learn to play facing it."

Pitino believes Battie may be a year or two away from being an impact player, mainly because of the need for weight training. The coach said yesterday he wants instant contributors, but it would be hard to envision a scenario in which Battie could not help the Celtics. His competition is Pervis Ellison. If he goes to Philly, it's Scott Williams.

All of this has been fast and blurry for the 21-year-old Battie.

"Three years ago, I was 6-7. The rest is history," he said.

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