International Bond Continues in Boston
ALLSTON, Mass. – Coincidences happen, and sometimes they happen for the better.
One year ago, the Celtics landed Purdue teammates JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore with the 27th and 55th overall picks,. Similarly, they landed Syracuse teammates Fab Melo and Kris Joseph with the 22nd and 51st overall picks of Thursday night’s NBA Draft.
You might begin to wonder if this is more of a trend than happenstance, but Danny Ainge played that down at the team’s press conference Thursday morning, where this year’s draft picks were introducted.
“It’s a total coincidence,” Ainge said. “We’re taking the best players that are available in the draft.”
Despite the fact that Ainge’s intentions were not to pair collegiate teammates up yet again, there are plenty of positives to be had now that it has happened.
“It’s nice to have the rookies have someone with them as they adjust,” said Ainge. “I think that’s a benefit.”
Johnson and Moore would be first in line to echo that sentiment. The two players were highly successful while playing alongside each other at Purdue and became great friends. As they transitioned into the NBA during a chaotic lockout-shortened season, they were allowed to lean on each other literally at any time. And they didn’t need to lean very far, either.
The Celtics, a franchise that prides itself on its family mentality, made sure that Johnson and Moore were never too far apart. They were given lockers directly next to each other for the entire season, and they could be seen lounging together in their chairs before almost every home game at TD Garden.
A similar situation is almost guaranteed to take place with Melo and Joseph. These two players have grown close to each other over the past two years, and they’re excited to begin the next chapter of their lives in the same uniform.
“I was happy,” said Melo, describing his initial feelings after learning that the Celtics drafted his teammate, too. “I was happy for me. I was happy for my man, for my friend. He’s one of my closest friends on the team, so I’m very glad he can be with me.”
Joseph, who flanked Melo’s left shoulder during the press conference, wasn’t far off with his own thoughts.
“Now that this opportunity has arrived and we’re both on the same team again, we’re able to be teammates again at this level, there’s nothing more to ask for,” he said.
It was evident that these guys weren’t just giving the politically correct answers to inquiries, either. They truly are great friends. As Joseph explained, he and Melo have a bond that is rarely found in collegiate basketball.
“Fab was someone who I kind of took under my wing, just being – we had the international thing going, me being from Montreal and him Brazil,” Joseph said. “So I really looked out for him. We were neighbors at one point. We always spent a lot of time together, there’s no question.”
If history serves as any indication, they’re likely to be neighbors in the locker room and spend plenty of time together as pros as well. It all starts today, when they take the court for the first time together, along with first-round pick Jared Sullinger, in their first prep work for the Orlando Pro Summer league, which begins July 9.
Those first baby steps will be taken today, but the biggest moment of all will be when rookies break for training camp in Italy and Turkey a few months down the road. Melo and Joseph will be afforded the opportunity to travel together, but more importantly, they’ll be able to learn the ropes together.
If all goes as planned with the C’s, these two draftees will be able to learn from two of the greatest players who ever played their respective positions. Joseph was quick to point that fact out Thursday morning.
“Paul Pierce is one of the guys I’ve looked up to in this league for a long time, just the way he can score the ball and create plays for himself and others. So being able to learn from him, a wing player, a player of his caliber, is going to be great for a guy like me.”
Melo is likewise excited about the possibility of learning from Kevin Garnett, who is a free agent but could return to the team next season. Garnett is known for taking young players under his wing – if, of course, those players prove that they’re worth his time – and Melo wants to be the next player on that list.
"I want to learn from him," said the 7-footer. "He's an energy guy. I have a lot of energy for the game, too. So, with my passion and his passion for the game, I think we're going to do great things."
That’s what the Celtics have in mind long-term, but for now, Melo and his buddy can concentrate on dominating the Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues in similar fashion to the way they dominated the Big East the past two seasons.
Coincidentally, they’ll both be able to do that while replacing their affinity for orange with a love for green.