12.13.2014

Pierce Looks Lost at Brandeis

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Rookie Pierce Looks Lost at Brandeis

January 12, 1999

   WALTHAM - There were times, many times, when Paul Pierce wondered. He would see his former teammates playing ball, having fun, and he knew he could have been there and done that.

But that was the point. He had been there and done that. But he had broken the mold at Kansas, leaving before his time, a junior bypassing his senior year, something that Kansas guys just don't do.

And then, absolutely nothing good happened. He slid in the draft, going from a projected No. 2 or No. 3 to No. 10, although that slide is now being reworked as something good. Then there was a lockout that went a lot longer than many thought it would. There were no fans and no teammates and no money and no games and, well, not much fun.

"It has to happen the year I come out," he said.

He watched the Jayhawks play twice, once at their home opener and again when they ventured west to Malibu to play Pepperdine. (He will miss this weekend's game with UMass because he has to be in Virginia for the annual rookie transition program.) He saw Kansas and other teams on television and kept seeing all the things he missed. He couldn't help but think, did I do the right thing, or was this the Jayhawk Jinx?

"At times I felt like I wasn't even in the NBA," he said. "There were times watching my school play and, coming down to the wire in January, thinking we weren't going to have a season, and I was thinking maybe I should have stayed in school.

"I was sitting around, working out, playing pickup games. No crowd, no fans. It was a little frustrating. I want to be out there playing in front of a crowd, showing everyone what I can do. You'd rather be playing."

He toyed with the prospect of playing overseas as the NBA's drop-dead date approached with no settlement in sight. It wasn't what he wanted, but he saw Michael Olowokandi do it and "after that happened," he said, "I thought about doing it, too." His agent said there were offers from two teams.

Then it was over. One day he's checking the exchange rate on Italian lira and the next day he's in New York City, getting kidded by Dee Brown about what's in store, and in possession of a guaranteed contract with the Boston Celtics.

"It came down to the last minute and you wondered if there would be a season," he said. "I'm glad it all worked out."

Pierce was one of seven Celtics to show up yesterday at Brandeis for the first day of "voluntary" workouts. He got a quick intro to Pitino 101 with the maniacal Shaun Brown, the strength and conditioning czar, running through several drills as well as doing weight and treadmill work.

As he met the media, Pierce coughed. A lot. "I've got a little burning in my chest," courtesy of his first day as a Celtic. He knows it will be worse, much worse, next week.

But he feels now that it was all worth it. He's long since forgotten the unforeseen slide on draft night, when he slipped into Pitino's welcoming hands. He may even have forgotten his first workout for Pitino in California, days before the lockout, when he went around the gym, shouting the names of players taken before him, then making each shot. Pitino liked that.

"I look at it now as a blessing in disguise," Pierce said. "I think God probably wanted me to be here. As I look at the top 10 teams, I think this is probably the best place for me. We've got a young, up-and-coming squad. In the near future, we're going to be a team to be reckoned with in the East."

Pierce stayed in California for most of the lockout, playing pickup games at UCLA with, among others, Kenny Anderson. He worked hard on his ball-handling, supposedly a shortcoming, although we heard the same thing about Ron Mercer last year and he seemed to do all right. Pierce also appeared in a few "celebrity" games.

He looked lost yesterday trying to find his way around Brandeis. He had a friend with him and later, after the drills and weights, he played in a shirts-and-skins game with his new teammates.

There still was no crowd, or cheering, but this was a lot more fun. Suddenly, those nights in Lawrence, Kan., seemed a long way away and, maybe, not as good as what lies ahead.

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