11.30.2015

McHale, Parish Best Shot-Blocking Duo Since Russell, Sanders


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January 13, 1981

Last June when the Boston Celtics sat down to discuss the draft, General Manager Red Auerbach, Coach Bill Fitch, and Harry Mangurian, the owner, disagreed on whether the 7-foot center Joe Barry Carroll would best serve the team's needs.

The Celtics, who had the first and 13th selections, traded both choices the day before the draft to Golden State for Robert Parish, another 7-foot center and the Warriors' first-round pick, which was third, in the draft.

The Warriors selected Carroll; the Utah Jazz used the second pick for Darrell Griffith, Louisville's exciting guard, and the Celtics took Kevin McHale, the 6-11 center-forward from Minnesota. Now, with Parish and McHale in the lineup, the Celtics have their greatest shot-blocking combination since Bill Russell and Tom (Satch) Sanders played on the same front line in the 1960's.

Parish was insurance for the eventual retirement of Dave Cowens, but the selection of McHale was something of a surprise, since it seemed to be adding just another body to the Celtics' collection of big men - Cedric Maxwell, Rick Robey and Eric Fernsten.

The Jazz, in need of a big man, would have seemed more likely to select McHale, leaving Griffith for the Celtics.

'A Bright Kid'

''At the time of the draft,'' Auerbach said yesterday, ''I had more of a need for Griffith than McHale. I figured the biggest player Utah had was this Ben Poquette, who is 6-9. With McHale available, that's the direction I would have gone.

''McHale can play two positions, forward and center. He's a bright kid. He came into the pros knowing he had several shortcomings. His defense and passing needed improvement, and he had to adjust to being one of five players on the court, rather than the one-man gang so many of these college stars are. McHale could probably start for almost any team in the league. He's not getting that kind of playing time with us, but he's getting a lot of time in the fourth quarter, and that's the crucial part of the game. That has to tell you something. He's the kind of kid who is not afraid in the clutch. Even as a rookie he has that 'hey, give me the ball' attitude.''

The Celtics have 16 victories in their last 17 games, going into tonight's game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. So far in the season, Parish and McHale had blocked a total of 211 shots. Parish is fourth in the National Basketball Association with 124 blocked shots; McHale, averaging 17 minutes a game, is 10th with 87.

The Celtics had expected shot-blocking from Parish because he was fourth in the league in that category last season. The surprise has been McHale.

A Different World

''I have always been capable of blocking shots,'' McHale said. ''In college people respected the big man in the middle more and didn't challenge him as much. Also, in college, it takes at least 35 to 40 seconds to get off a shot. In the pros, a shot goes up every 17 or 18 seconds, and with more people driving the middle there are more opportunities to block shots.''

Larry Bird, his Celtic teammate and last season's rookie of the year, said: ''Kevin has a great ability to go up, get the shot and keep it in play. We have triggered a lot of our fast breaks when his blocked shots don't go out of bounds. But he's getting a lot of bad calls against him because he's going after every shot and trying to block everything. I think he's just the kind of player who's going to get better and better.''

Thursday night, a day after the Celtics had beaten the Phoenix Suns, 108-90, and McHale had scored 10 points and blocked three shots, Al Bianchi, the Suns' assistant coach, was at Madison Square Garden to scout the Knicks.

Asked about McHale, Bianchi said: ''He is a strong, aggressive inside player. He has long loose arms, and they help him get his hands on a lot of balls on defense. Everything worked out for him with the retirement of Dave Cowens. I wonder what would have happened if Cowens was still around and he had to share the playing time with Parish and Robey?''

Arms a Defensive Asset

Cowens, who had played center for 10 seasons, retired during the offseason. Nate (Tiny) Archibald, the Celtic playmaker, likened McHale's long arms to those of Phil Jackson, the Nets' assistant coach. ''Defensively, Kevin plays a lot like Phil did when he was with the Knicks,'' said Archibald, ''except that Kevin can jump a lot higher. With his long loose arms, he plays like he's 7-2.''

McHale said he has always had long arms, even when he was a freshman at Hibbing (Minn.) High School. ''Think it's cold out here now?'' McHale asked, a few hours before the Celtics played the Nets Saturday night at Rutgers University. ''It used to get down to minus-30 back home, and that was the real temperature, not with the wind-chill factor, the way the weathermen talk about it around here.''

A Surprise in College

McHale was not a heavily recruited player as a high school senior. Lute Olsen, who was coaching Iowa University at the time, came to watch McHale play, but he said he thought he would never be a majorcollege player. When Jim Dutcher, the Minnesota coach, offered him a scholarship, McHale was surprised and happy. He repaid Dutcher by scoring 1,704 points and grabbing 950 rebounds.

''A lot of people told me I wasn't going to make it big in college,'' McHale said. ''They thought I looked good in high school because I didn't have a lot of competition.''

During McHale's freshman and sophomore seasons, the Gophers were dominated by Mychal Thompson. When Thompson was the first player selected in the 1977 draft, by the Portland Trail Blazers, McHale began to draw the attention that led to a berth on the United States team in the Pan American Games and high regard by the pro scouts.

Now, McHale is trying to turn that regard into respect. ''It's no big deal coming off the bench,'' he said. ''Actually, I probably enjoy it more because, when I get into the game, it's usually with Robey, and we do some things together that gives us a different look.''

It hasn't been an easy adjustment for McHale, who also is learning to cope with the demands of Fitch. ''I ride him a lot,'' Fitch said, ''but no different than I did Larry Bird last season or Mike Mitchell when I coached him in Cleveland. Kevin is a very gregarious person, one of the most talkative rookies I have ever met. Every time we want to try a prank on someone, we usually do it against Kevin. Once I told everyone that practice would be at a certain time and told Kevin a different time. He was the only one to show up for practice. He likes having fun off the court.

''It bothers me that, when everyone talks about top rookies, I rarely hear Kevin's name mentioned as a rookie-of-the-year candidate. I think that award should be for a rookie's production, for the minutes he plays, not just for playing time. If that were to happen, Kevin would be right up there for rookie honors. I think a young player's formative years are the most important and he should only get the playing time he earns and deserves.''

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