Anthony Epps on the Radar?

October 23, 1997

Rick Pitino went out on a limb yesterday and said he was not interested in signing Anthony Epps.

The Celtics coach, like everyone else, was having some fun with the fan reaction to the acquisition of yet another one of his former players from the University of Kentucky. Before Wednesday, he had two alums from the 1996 champs. Now

he has three with the arrival of Walter McCarty in the four-for-one deal with the Knicks for Chris Mills. The other two ex-Wildcats are Antoine Walker and Ron Mercer.

"I think it's great," said Walker after yesterday's workout at Brandeis. "I think you're going to be surprised at Walter. He's active. He's energetic. He's going to fit in well."

It's rare that three players from the same college team make the NBA, let alone play together on the same professional club. Celtics fans recall the Brigham Young trio of Danny Ainge, Fred Roberts, and Greg Kite in the late 1980s.

But this has to be a first: three guys from the same college team, an NCAA championship team at that, joining their college coach on the same pro team. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

"I have a lot of loyalty and respect for the University of Kentucky, but I am not taking these players because they played for Kentucky," Pitino said. "These players can play, I know their games. They happened to play for Kentucky.

These are three guys who were the focus of a championship team."

You can already hear the guffaws around the NBA. Who's next, Epps? Or Mark Pope? Are the Celtics changing colors to blue and white? Will they play their home games in Lexington? Is the Vanderbilt game this week or next?

Ex-Kentuckians have been occasional visitors to Celtic land over the last 51 years. There was, of course, the great Frank Ramsey, who popularized the sixth man concept under Red Auerbach. There was center Rick Robey, whose 1983 trade to

Phoenix probably extended Larry Bird's career by several years. (The two liked to have a good time.) Dirk Minniefield came aboard in the late 1980s and was the first winner of SportsChannel's Sixth Man Award in 1988. A few other ex-

Wildcats passed through, the best known probably being Lou Tsioropoulos, who played on two title teams in the 1950s.

Then there was the best Kentucky player in Celtics history who never played a game for the team. In 1956, the Celtics traded the draft rights to Cliff Hagan, whom they had picked as a junior eligible in 1953, to St. Louis in a deal that

enabled them to draft Bill Russell. Hagan had to go into military service for two years after leaving Kentucky - the Celtics kept his rights - and was traded before ever playing a game with Boston.

Of the three Kentuckians on this year's team, all were first-round picks. McCarty probably knows Pitino the best, having played four years at Kentucky. Mercer and Walker both bailed out for the NBA after two years.

"We've always had a good relationship," McCarty said, referring to Mercer and Walker. "We had a lot of fun in our time at Kentucky. The opportunity to be around each other again is even better."

Asked if he thought it would be any different now that it's the NBA and not the NCAA, McCarty shook his head. No. The same noises he used to hear at Rupp Arena, he is hearing again in Shapiro Gym.

"We'll be doing the same things. Pressing. Trapping. We're still young," he said. "It's not like we've been in the NBA for five years or something. The whole thing is still new to us. We have young legs. We haven't been transformed

totally to slowdown, half-court basketball."

And he never will as long as Pitino is the man with the whistle and the power.

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