Noah Vonleh and Jake Layman at Celtics practice.

Layman, Vonleh Embracing Opportunity to Play for Hometown Team

When Jake Layman and Noah Vonleh received invites to Celtics training camp this fall, it became an opportunity for them to not only earn a full-time roster spot with the defending Eastern Conference champions, but also a chance to return home.

Layman, a 6-foot-8 wing, grew up about 30 miles southwest of Boston in Wrentham, Massachusetts, where he starred at King Philip Regional High School. The 2012 graduate went on to play four years at the University of Maryland before being drafted in by Portland with 47th overall pick in the 2016 Draft.

Vonleh, a 6-foot-10, 257-pound power forward/center, spent the first seven years of his life north of Boston in Salem, Mass. before moving down the road to Haverhill for the next 11 years. He attended Haverhill High and then transferred to the New Hampton School in New Hampshire, where he gratuated in 2013. The five-star recruit played just one year at Indiana University before being drafted by Charlotte with the ninth overall pick in the 2014 Draft.

Layman split his previous six seasons between Portland and Minnesota. Vonleh spent his first seven seasons with seven different NBA teams before playing last season overseas.

Now, both of their lives have come full circle, as they hope to live out the dream of playing for their *hometown team.

“I’m grateful for them to give me the opportunity to come in here and play for a roster spot,” 28-year-old Layman told Celtics.com. “I feel like I have an opportunity to make the team, as well. I’m not just here just to be here. And then to be back home is special. I grew up not too far from here, so it’s awesome to be back and see a lot of family and friends around.”

Although Vonleh’s family no longer calls Haverhill home, as they’ve dispersed to Atlanta and Oregon, the 27-year-old journeyman still feels a strong connection to the Boston area and his hometown team.

“We used to watch the games all the time,” Vonleh said. “I liked a lot of players like Paul Pierce (also Layman’s favorite Celtic) and Antoine Walker, and obviously a bunch of the other players like Tony Battie, (Tony) Delk, Wally Szerbiac, Walter McCarty. So I definitely was a Celtic fan growing up.”

Layman and Vonleh didn’t cross paths often during their high school playing days despite being just one year apart. Though given that Massachusetts isn’t known as being a hotspot for pro-level talent, they certainly knew of each other.

“If you’re one of the top guys and you’re another top player, you’re obviously gonna know who’s around and who’s coming up,” said Vonleh. “So I heard about Jake and knew about him.”

They’ve come to know a lot more about each other in recent years. This marks the third time that they’ve joined forces as NBA teammates, as they were together in Portland from 2016-18, and also in Minnesota during the 2019-20 season.  

“It’s great having him around,” Layman said of Vonleh. “Somebody that I can hang out with off the court, get food with, and chill with. So it’s nice to have a familiar face around.”

When they’re on the court, it’s all about business. Layman and Vonleh are two of six training camp invitees who are currently fighting over three full-time roster spots. Those spots could also go to other free agents, so the competition is fierce.

Having worked closely with training camp invitees in the past, interim head coach Joe Mazzulla says the keys for those guys are having patience and bringing intensity on the defensive end.

“The last couple years, I've worked with guys that are in that position and the whole thing is patience and making sure you get on the court first because of your defense. And they’ve done a great job of that,” Mazzulla told Celtics.com following Saturday’s practice. “We did a drill today and when those guys were out there, their defensive intensity was the same (as the rest of the team). I think it starts with that, knowing what your role is, and then knowing that you're going to have to play on the defensive end."

That’s good to know for two guys like Layman and Vonleh who both hang their hats on the defensive end.

“I think I would be a guy that would be able to come in whenever they need me to and provide a spark defensively with my length and athleticism,” said Layman, who has averaged 13.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per 36 minutes in 243 career games (49 starts). “And offensively, I think, with this group of guys, my cutting off-ball, screening off-ball, being able to move without the ball in my hands is a key to my game, so I think that’ll be effective here.”

Vonleh, who has averaged 10.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per 36 minutes in 339 games (171 starts), believes he can bring a unique effectiveness as well.

“I think there’s a lot of things I could do versatility-wise, especially from a defensive standpoint being able to switch,” he said. “With the way the game’s going, if we had me in the lineup where I’m at the 5 or the 4, being able to switch and guard 1 through 5. And I’ve been working on my shooting during the summer, being able to knock down the corner 3 can add another dimension.”

Both Layman and Vonleh will have the opportunity to display those skill sets over the next couple of weeks as the Celtics grind through training camp and preseason. If they prove themselves valuable enough to the team during that time, it could end up being their ticket home.

*Eight Massachusetts natives have played a regular-season game for the Celtics. On only one occasion were two Massachusetts natives on the team at the same time: Dana Barros and Wayne Turner during the 1999-00 season. They played just one game together on Nov. 5 1999.