WALTHAM - The coach already has a nickname for his teenage hoop hunk:
Moses. It has nothing to do with tablets and everything to do with
talent. In this case, we're not talking about the biblical Moses, but
the basketball player who is in the Hall of Fame and who, like the
teenager in question, went into pro basketball directly from high
school."I keep yelling, 'Moses,' " Doc Rivers said yesterday when asked
about rookie Celtics
power forward Al Jefferson. "That's who he reminds me of. Obviously,
he's not Moses. But he has Moses Malone tendencies: the quick jumper,
keeping the ball alive, long arms, great instincts in the paint. And
indeed raw. Until this year, his competition consisted largely of
overmatched 6-foot-4-inch guys in 3A high school competition in
Mississippi. He is a project, but his current employers believe he is
ahead of the learning curve.
"He's further along than I thought," said Danny Ainge, the Celtics'
executive director of basketball operations. "He's picked up the
defensive schemes quicker than I thought. He has an instinct for scoring
and rebounding that's hard to teach."
who will turn 20 Jan. 5, has appeared in all three games this season,
totaling 29 minutes. He has scored 14 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and
blocked 3 shots while shooting 7 of 11 from the field. Tonight, he'll
likely get the call at some point against a bruising Portland front
line, most of whom probably are unaware that Jefferson was high on the
Trail Blazers' wish list last June but chose not to work out for them.
"I think the fact we had Zach Randolph might have had something to do with it," quipped Blazers general manager John Nash.
hurt his shoulder in Seattle right before he was supposed to go to
Portland," said Larry Stamps, who was Jefferson's AAU coach for three
years and was in charge of arranging Jefferson's predraft workouts.
"There were enough witnesses who saw it. Looking back, I wish he had
worked out for Portland."
way Jefferson sees it, everything worked out for the best. Last year at
this time, he was said to be on the fence between turning pro or
attending the University of Arkansas. But after averaging 42 points and
18 rebounds as a senior at Prentiss High School, and then more than
holding his own in the high school all-star games, the decision was, as
Stamps put it, "a no-brainer.
a lawyer," Stamps said. "Where I come from, a college education is very
important. It was my way out. But there are a lot of ways out. Al is
not the only guy from Prentiss High School who isn't going to college.
But he is the only guy getting paid $1 million. He had the option to do
what he loved to do and get paid very well for it."
was the best decision I ever made in my life," said Jefferson. "I feel
this is where I need to be. If I had the chance to do it all over again,
I wouldn't change a thing."
first saw Jefferson at the McDonald's High School all-star game last
spring in Oklahoma City. Most NBA executives prefer to watch the
practices, because the games inevitably evolve into glorified
dunk-o-ramas. What Ainge said stuck with him: Jefferson more than held
his own against the elite high schoolers and even got the better of
Dwight Howard, the consensus top high schooler who went No. 1 overall to
the Orlando Magic.
"He instigated and initiated the aggressive style of play," Ainge said.
Prior to that showing, Celtics
GM Chris Wallace had twice watched Jefferson play in high school - and
had his share of questions about the 6-foot-9-inch, 265-pounder.
didn't play against great competition," Wallace said. "And he was so
much bigger than everyone else. It was difficult to evaluate him. But he
Yes, he could. "He had that knack," said Ainge. "He had a feel for getting the ball in the basket that you can't teach."
Jefferson zoomed to the top of the Celtics'
wish list. Ainge's dream draft had him snaring high school center
Robert Swift and Jefferson, "the prototype center and the prototype
power forward to build around." But Seattle swooped in on Swift at No.
12, leaving Jefferson there for the Celtics at No. 15.
think he was surprised because Boston wasn't one of his better
workouts," Stamps said. "It was his first one. We had been traveling all
saw enough, and they were encouraged with the interview. They got a guy
who can score, rebound, and, once he figures it all out, could be their
power forward for years to come.
kind of knew what to expect," Jefferson said. "But when things started
to happen, I said, 'Whoa.' I heard it was fast. It is fast."
he appears to be picking it up fast. While the veterans love him ("an
adopted child," Rivers said) and Gary Payton schools him, Jefferson is
on his own in making what for many would be a very difficult transition.
young as far as the world," Rivers said. "He hasn't been that far out
of Mississippi. But as for basketball and coming in every day to work
and be ready, he has all that stuff."