Cleaves Waiting For The Call
Cleaves, the three time collegiate All-American at Michigan State who captained the Spartans to the 2000 NCAA Championship, has fallen upon considerable adversity since being selected in the NBA Draft later that year, with the 14th overall pick by the Detroit Pistons. In the motor city he was unable to establish himself in the team's rotation and was dealt to Sacramento prior to the 2001-02 campaign. There, Cleaves was hampered by foot ailments that limited him to only 44 games in two seasons with the Kings, and led to his release last spring.
When the Celtics came calling with an invitation to training camp, Cleaves chose Boston over several other interested teams because of their style of play. He explains, "This is one of the best situations for me, being on the East Coast because of the way the defense is and being around these guys. This style fits mine a lot more than some other teams." Despite his enthusiasm for the organization and his desire to earn a spot in Boston, Cleaves is realistic in terms of his objectives this fall. "I know I can play in this league, it's just about finding the right situation. I want to be on this team but if the timing isn't right then you got other teams where guards might go down and then you get an opportunity."
For the time being Cleaves is helping the Celtics each day in practice by providing them with an experienced quarterback, with a wide understanding of all facets of the game, while the Celtics are allowing him to showcase his skills to other teams around the league who might be interested. Coach O'Brien is delighted to have him around. "Mateen is an excellent leader, he plays ball with his head. It's like having another coach on the floor. He has some limitations offensively, but he plays every other phase of the game at the highest level. I believe there is a place in the league for him."
Mateen Cleaves may never return to his past status, but he is not ready to give up on his NBA career, explaining, "I don't want to go to (play in) Europe, I want to play in the NBA. I haven't even thought about that."
"I have been around a lot of guys that have supposed to have been out of the league or didn't have a chance, but when they got the chance they were ready. So my job is just to stay ready. My feet feel good, I'm back healthy and everything. The key is just to keep working hard and wait for the opportunity."