Class is in Session for Celtics Rookies

Marc D'Amico
Team Reporter and Analyst

WALTHAM, Mass. – Marcus Smart has been playing basketball for a long, long time. Now he can do it without the hassles of student life.

Well, to a certain extent.

Smart and the 12 other members of Boston’s summer league team came together for their first practice on Tuesday morning. The rookie guard learned quickly that the NBA game has many variances compared to collegiate basketball, but there is one major difference between what he’s doing now and what he had done for the first 20 years of his life.

“The only thing is you don’t have to go to class,” he said with a smile.

Marcus Smart, James Young

Boston's rookies, including Marcus Smart and James Young, will learn a lot from the team's veterans during summer league.
NBAE/Getty Images

True, Smart and his rookie teammates won’t be walking into the Celtics practice facility to listen to a lecture from a Sociology or Economics professor. However, they did just begin their coursework in NBA Basketball 101.

The next 11 days will be all about acclimating Smart, James Young and their fellow rookies to the NBA game. The process began with Tuesday’s practice, where the team’s coaching staff, led by Jay Larranaga, began to install Boston’s system.

“Just start to introduce some concepts, more than anything,” Larranaga said of his goals for Tuesday and Wednesday’s practice sessions. “This is how we’d like to play offensively. This is how we’d like to play defensively. Start to develop the habits we believe will make them successful during the season.”

Sounds simple, but it’s more difficult than one might expect. These rookies have only four days to internalize the offensive and defensive schemes that Boston runs, as well as the NBA’s rules. That, folks, is a crash course for a challenging test to be taken in Orlando.

“You have to be ready mentally to take it all in,” said Colton Iverson, who went through this entire process after being chosen 53rd overall by the Celtics a year ago.
“It’s a little tough, but I think most basketball players – I’ve had four different coaches in the last five years, about to be five now – it’s something you learn as a basketball player. You’ve just got to be ready to pick it up as it goes.”

Fortunately for Boston’s rookies, they have some upper classmen, if you will, to help them along the way. In addition to Iverson, Kelly Olynyk and Phil Pressey will also be playing in their second consecutive summer league with the C’s. Celtics vets Chris Johnson and Chris Babb will be playing for the team as well.

These non-rookies are embracing their roles as veterans. They’re doing what they can to help the new guys learn the nuances of the NBA game as quickly as possible.

“Just simple things like ball screens and guys waiting for people to set pick-and-rolls so you don’t get a moving screen,” Pressey said of his opening-practice advice to the rookies. “I just told Marcus that earlier today. It’s just little things like that that can go a long way.”

Pressey understands how important those little things are. He and the other Celtics rookies didn’t have any veterans to help them along the way last year, as Fab Melo was the only second-year player on the summer league roster. Pressey believes that he and his fellow veterans can make a major impact on the rookies this time around.

“When we’re all coming in and the game is going a thousand miles an hour, nobody really knew anything about the NBA game,” Pressey said as he remembered last summer. “Now that we have about four or five guys who’ve played in the NBA, that’s going to help us out tremendously. Guys can talk to guys who haven’t been in this situation and we can really help each other out.”

Rookies, meet your tutors. They’ll be your lifelines for the next week and a half.

You’re no longer in class, but this is the beginning of NBA Basketball 101.