DeClercq gets his bearings

February 26, 1999

DeClercq gets his bearings;

   WALTHAM - Andrew DeClercq used to get lost all the time. It was part of his daily routine, which went something like this:

Leave home, armed with maps and compasses.

Get in vehicle.

Get lost.

Return home wondering if you will ever be able to figure out how to quickly negotiate Greater Boston's streets, rotaries, and tunnels. 

DeClercq didn't begin to understand the Boston roads until last April. That was also the time he began to look better on parquet and other hardwood courts. The only time he gets lost now is in newsprint and video replays.

You have heard plenty about Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker, Kenny Anderson, and Ron Mercer. You have not heard much about the forward-center they often pass to on fast breaks, expecting him to finish the play. It is the same man who tells you that one of his goals is not to be an All-Star but "to be a guy who can defend anyone in the post, one on one. A guy who can box out and rebound consistently; an explosive force, physically."

Some of DeClercq's friends have nicknamed him Ringo Starr because of his bowl haircut. But that could also apply in the recognition category since Ringo was always the overlooked Beatle.

DeClercq fulfilled a gospel of sorts Wednesday night. Coaches constantly preach that someone should always be in good position to score when an opponent begins double-teaming a player. That happened Wednesday night against the Magic. And while Pierce, Mercer, Walker, Anderson, and Dana Barros had their brilliant passes, jump shots and dunks, DeClercq was a quiet 7 of 9 from the field.

Unlike most of last season, he knows where to be now.

"Yeah, I think a lot of it is comfort level on the court and off," he said yesterday. "I don't have to worry about getting lost every time I leave my house."

You think he exaggerates about being lost? Listen:

"One time my mother was in town and I had to take her back to the airport. When I dropped her off, it was 7 or 8 o'clock at night and I didn't want to go through the tunnel and all that traffic. So I was going to try and find a different route. I managed to get on Route 1 and I . . . I didn't see any signs for a while. Forty-five minutes later I saw a sign."

Keep in mind that he was trying to get to Waltham. But that's not what the sign said.

"I saw, 'Welcome to Salem,' " he said.

The 6-foot-10-inch DeClercq has learned a few secrets since then. He's carried his new comfort to the court, where he is also working with an added 5-7 pounds of muscle. He knows theCeltics have center problems and, although he is not a true center, he is willing to help in any form. On Wednesday, that meant running down the floor faster than the man guarding him. Tonight, facing the Knicks' Patrick Ewing and Marcus Camby, he may have to lean on both men so they won't destroy the smaller Celtics.

"You really can't look at me and say I'm a center in this league, when you look at the likes of Shaq and Arvydas Sabonis," he said. "I'm 6-9, maybe 6-10, and 240 pounds on my good days. That's just not a center in the NBA; that's a good-sized power forward."

It was never part of Rick Pitino's plan to start DeClercq at center 49 times last season. But when Travis Knight didn't play well and Pervis Ellison got hurt, that left DeClercq.

"I've always felt that if they put me on the floor, I'd do whatever they wanted me to," he said.

The coaching staff began asking him to work on his offense. While with Golden State, he was told that offense was for the likes of Latrell Sprewell and Joe Smith, not him. That has changed, too. DeClercq now has an up-and-under move. Next up: developing a reliable 15-footer.

And hey, if you need directions, you might want to talk with him.

"I've got a great back way to go to the FleetCenter," he said. "There's a way you can go and avoid the biggest traffic jams. And there is another way to leave the airport and avoid that tunnel. But it's not much better.

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