By Matthew Fairburn
Phil Pressey has always been small.
That's one of the things Celtics fans will notice about Pressey -- who, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, has signed with the C's as an undrafted free agent -- when training camp begins. And it's what Leo Papile first noticed about the son of his colleague, then-Celtics assistant Paul Pressey, way back when.
Papile noticed his passion for the game, too. Phil Pressey lived in the gym, flashing his quickness, putting up extra shots and taking every opportunity to play. So when Pressey was in seventh grade, Papile challenged him. He gave him a chance to play up an age group with the Boston Amatuer Basketball Club’s eighth-grade team.
Pressey admits it was tough at first, and his new teammates were surprised to see him walk onto the floor.
“I remember the first time playing with Phil, I looked at him and I didn’t think he could really play,” said Alex Oriakhi, later a teammate of Pressey's at the University of Missouri -- and a second-round draft pick of the Suns on Thursday night -- who was on BABC’s eighth-grade team.
But Pressey could play, and it was obvious right away. Despite standing just 5-feet-2-inches tall at the time, he could pass and his instincts were second to none.
“I think the biggest compliment you can give a point guard is he’s one pass from a layup anywhere on the floor,” Papile said. “And Phil just had this terrific vision.”
That vision helped BABC win the ninth-grade national title the following season with an eighth grader, Pressey, at point guard. It helped him set records at Missouri, and it eventually helped him recruit Oriakhi to play for the Tigers.
After spending three years at the University of Connecticut and winning a national championship, Oriakhi decided to transfer for his senior season after the UConn program was hit with sanctions. That’s when Pressey made the call to the big man, who was one of his oldest friends in basketball.
Kentucky and other major schools were recruiting Oriakhi, but it was tough for the Lowell native to ignore a point guard and friend of Pressey’s caliber.
“Who wouldn’t want to play with a point guard that makes you look good?" he said. "All you have to do is catch and dunk. Anybody would want to play with some like that.”
Oriakhi eventually transferred to Missouri, and now the two are taking the next step in their basketball careers together: preparing for the NBA. The two still talk nearly every day and kept each other motivated throughout the grueling pre-draft process.
“Stay focused, keep your eyes on the prize,” Pressey said. “If we work hard, we deserve what we’re going to get.”
During the pre-draft process, critics raised questions about Pressey’s size. At the NBA Scouting Combine in Chicago, Pressey measured in at 5-feet-11 inches tall with his shoes on.
Pressey didn’t appear in every mock draft, but Papile considered him one of the three or four best point guards in this class. Still, he knew not every team would be interested.
“I think point guards are sort of like quarterbacks, it depends on need,” Papile said.
The Celtics had that need. And so Pressey will get his NBA chance in Boston . . . where he proved himself, to Papile and the BABC, not so long ago.