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Vonleh Making Most of Opportunity with Hometown C’s

BOSTON – On the day before Boston’s first preseason game, North Shore native Noah Vonleh spoke with Celtics.com about how thrilled he was to have the opportunity to earn a training camp contract with his hometown team. It’s an opportunity on which he has capitalized in the week since, as he has emerged as one of the biggest surprises through Boston’s first three preseason games.

In 47 minutes of action, Vonleh has amassed 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting (83.3 percent) and 25 rebounds, which makes him the league-leader in both field-goal percentage (min. 10 field-goal attempts) and total rebounds.

The 6-foot-10, 257-pound big man is also coming off his most impressive showing in a C’s uniform after tallying a double-double of 14 points (6-of-8 FG) and 13 rebounds as their starting center in Friday night’s 112-103 road win over the Charlotte Hornets.

“Things have been going well so far,” Vonleh reflected Sunday afternoon of the work he’s put in since joining the Celtics in September. “When I initially came a month ago, I had a hamstring injury I was dealing with. The medical staff took care of that, got me back on the court, and I’ve been feeling great.

“Just taking it day by day, learning the system, learning the plays, and watching a lot of film to get everything situated and acclimated.”

Already acclimated to the area, having grown up in the northeastern Massachusetts cities of Salem and Haverhill, Vonleh is hoping that this opportunity with the Celtics will allow him to return home. Especially after the worldwide journey he’s been on throughout the past eight years.

The No. 9 overall pick from the 2014 Draft spent his first seven professional seasons playing for seven different NBA teams.

Vonleh’s best campaign was in 2018-19 when he averaged 8.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as the starting center for the New York Knicks. However, he couldn’t find consistent work in the NBA after that, as he spent the next two seasons playing just 36 total games while making stops in Minnesota, Denver, and Brooklyn, respectively.

Last season, he decided to go overseas to China to play for the Shanghai Sharks. It turned out to be a rejuvenating experience, as he posted 15.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals, all while averaging 23.2 minutes per action in 23 games.

“I think it was a great experience,” Vonleh said of playing internationally. “I had a great showing out there, shot the ball really well, just kind of got comfortable playing more free, and I’m happy to be back here with this opportunity, to be able to come back to my hometown and have a chance to make the roster here.”

If he makes the roster, Vonleh believes that his versatile skillset could help complement what he refers to as Boston’s “two-headed monster” in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

“The biggest key when I check into the game and I’m on the floor with those guys is just getting a little angle, trying to get those guys open, using my body to create angles, get them the mismatch,” Vonleh said. “And if they want to throw it in there if I have a guard on me, we’ll exploit that also.

“I’m just going to try to go in every day and be consistent, do whatever I’m asked, and continue to work on my game, like I said, working on screening angles, trying to get these guys open, and continue to work on different parts of my game, expanding my range, getting those threes here and there, and working on different things.”

Vonleh has about one more week to continue to prove that he belongs, including one last exhibition game against Toronto Friday night. Though, he’s trying not to look too far ahead, as he takes one step at a time.

 “I don’t know if this will be the last stop, but I’m happy to be here now,” he said. “I’m just staying in the moment, staying in the now.”