Johnson listens to advice KG has to offer

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Johnson listens to advice KG has to offer

BOSTON Full-time emotional catalyst. Part-time 3-point shooter.

Kevin Garnett wears many hats for the Boston Celtics.

But his greatest contributions have little to do with his numbers, or even the Celtics winning games.

It has to do with his leadership, his accountability and willingness to portion off a few swigs from his fountain of basketball knowledge, and sprinkle a few of those drops here and there on the C's younger players who have proven themselves worthy of Garnett's tutelage.

No player among the youngsters seems to embrace the 'Book of Kevin' more than JaJuan Johnson.

From the moment he was traded to the Celtics on draft night, Johnson talked about wanting to learn as much as possible from Garnett.

Having heard how Garnett would tune young players out who weren't willing to listen, Johnson was emphatic during a recent interview with CSNNE.com that he was not going to be that player.

"He's one of the greatest to ever play the game," Johnson told CSNNE.com. "That's just dumb to not want to hear what advice he has to tell you. I'm looking at the big picture, and that's being in the NBA for a long time. Guys like KG, Paul (Pierce), Ray (Allen), they've been great in helping me and the other young guys."

But there is something different about the relationship between Garnett and Johnson.

Part of it has to do with them playing the same position. Both have the ability to stretch defenses with their shooting, in addition to making mid-range shots or scoring around the basket. And then there's the fact that both players are really focused on being great defenders.

"Like I said, when Kevin talks, I listen," Johnson said. "He's really been good to me."

And to a certain degree, you can say Johnson has been good for Garnett.

If you spend enough time around KG, it's clear that his passion for the game won't go away when he stops playing. In Johnson, there is the hope and promise that all the things that Garnett values - leadership, accountability, work ethic - will continue to play out in Johnson's career.

Make no mistake about it.

Garnett spends quality time with all of the Celtics' young players. Even when young players like Semih Erden are traded and return to face Boston, Garnett is one of the first players they seek out.

"KG, was very good to me when I was in Boston," Erden told CSNNE.com earlier this month when the Celtics hosted Erden's new team. "He talk with me a lot, help me become better player. He's good guy."

As much as Garnett appreciates the desire of young players like Johnson to learn and listen, there comes a time when a young player's voice has to be heard.

Garnett believes that time is now, for Johnson.

"I do encourage him to speak up a little more because I can't read minds," Garnett said. "And use the guys in here. I always tell him that you have a lot of guys in here with a lot of different experiences. You should get to know them."

Johnson has done that.

But in the end, Garnett remains his greatest influence.

For Garnett, he's simply doing what previous generations of NBA players did for him.

"When I do have the young boys on the plane, when I have them individually, I just like to talk to them about just life, this league and the journey and all that," Garnett said. "So I open up to them a little bit from that standpoint. Just about NBA life; it can be difficult for young guys. I don't think it's enough veterans out here on teams, to speak and guide some of these young guys and let them know how important hard work is. Having a work ethic, love for the game, respect for the game, respect for yourself, respect for your family, those things. I'm sort of that on this team."

OFFSEASON

Mental training is the secret to Jaylen Brown's development

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Mental training is the secret to Jaylen Brown's development

BOSTON – Jaylen Brown’s athleticism was among the many reasons the Boston Celtics selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in last month’s NBA draft. But even before he became a Green Teamer, Brown’s aspirations were much greater than being a high draft pick.

“I want to be a top five player in the league,” Brown said at his introductory press conference last month. It’s a lofty goal for sure; the kind that requires more than just talent. And that’s where Graham Betchart – Brown’s mental skills coach - comes in.

Betchart’s work as a mental skills coach has been on full display as one of the keys to Brown being among the standout performers during summer leagues in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, respectively. 

The 6-foot-7 rookie was named to the Las Vegas Summer League’s second team, one of just three lottery picks (top-14) in last month’s NBA draft (Ben Simmons of LSU and Thon Maker of Milwaukee) named to the first (Simmons) or second (Maker) team along with Brown.

In addition to Brown, Betchart has worked with each of the last three first overall picks – Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony-Towns and most recently, Simmons. Betchart said he also worked with current Celtic guard Marcus Smart when he was at Oklahoma State.

While each player has their own specific program, there are some common threads that bind all of his clients.

“The big thing I want them to focus on is what in their control,” Betchart told CSNNE.com from New York City where he was meeting with the New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who has been one of the more outspoken athletes when it comes to mental health-related issues. “And so for a lot of these guys, they’re so good in high school and even college, they can focus on results and still produce results. As you get older, you realize that results are totally out of your control. And so my focus is getting them to focus on what’s in their control, and learning how to do it consistently; how to create a pattern, a consistent mindset.”

We saw that from Brown this summer with the Celtics’ summer league teams. He averaged 16.0 points and 6.2 rebounds but did so shooting a not-so-great 30.7 percent from the field and was even worst (27.2 percent) on 3s.

However, he did manage to get to the free throw line 10.2 times per game, which is surprising when you consider whistles typically aren’t blown as often in the summer than they are in a regular season game. And just to put his free throw average in perspective, only two players – Houston’s James Harden and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins – averaged more than 10 free throw attempts per game last season.

Brown has said on more than one occasion that getting to the free throw line often has to be one of his strengths in the NBA. Based on what he did this past summer, there’s no question it’s something he has indeed made a priority.

And the fact that Brown was able to do it consistently this summer falls in line with one of the core concepts that Betchart preaches to his clients.

“To me the hardest thing in sports is to be consistent,” said Betchart, who is now the director of mental training for San Francisco-based Lucid, a mental training app for athletes. “Anyone can just once in a while show up and have a great game. It really starts with having a consistent mindset based on what you can control. They have to be in the moment no matter what’s going on. It could be really bad, it could be really good.”

And when it’s over, players can’t dwell in the mistakes of the past.

“We make a mistake and get hung up sometimes,” Betchart said. “But if you can move on to that next play and train your focus to do that, it’s really hard to stop you if you don’t stop yourself.”

Instead, those mistakes actually form the foundation for future success.

In the case of Brown, one of the biggest knocks on him coming into the NBA was his shooting touch being anything but consistent.

“It’s the growth mindset,” Betchart said. “If you are going to master shooting, you’re gonna have to miss a lot of shots. It’s kind of like learning to walk. When you were learning to walk, you don’t remember but you fell down all the time. You didn’t say, ‘Oh I’m not going to walk. I’m just going to stay on the ground.’ You just picked yourself up and eventually you learned. When you get to the professional level, your game is analyzed on where it is right now. And right now, he’s 19 years old. There’s no way he’s going to be as good a shooter now as he’ll be at 23 and 25. And so if he embraces the growth mindset and just continues to focus on his process, which is taking the shot, being assertive, taking your shot, it’s all going to work out. I know this to be factually true.”

Another one of Betchart’s clients is Orlando forward Aaron Gordon, who came into the NBA as one of the worst free throw shooters in college basketball. In his lone season at Arizona, Gordon shot just 42.2 percent from the free throw line.

In his two NBA seasons, the 6-foot-9 forward has shot 68.1 percent.

“People were laughing at (Gordon’s free throw shooting) sarcastically and now as a pro he’s shooting (almost) 70 percent,” Betchart said. “It was all based on a growth mindset; just allowing yourself to fail and really, you’re not failing. You’re learning how to shoot. We introduce a concept called Victory goes to the Vulnerable. You’re going to be vulnerable sometimes. People are going to talk about your shot. That’s OK. We let people have their opinions. We don’t try and stop them. It’s all part of the process.”

Ah yes, the process.

If you listen to Brown, he has said on more than one occasion whether he played well or not, that all that he’s going through now is part of a process that will eventually make him a better person and a better player for the Celtics.

Part of that process is utilizing the various mental techniques and teachings of Betchart, who has known Brown since he was 15 years old and had a chance to spend a considerable amount of face-to-face time with him this past year when Brown was at Cal.

Most of what Betchart talks about has a strong basketball teaching component to it. But at the end of the day, there’s a lot more going on.

“Everybody starts to realize these are life skills,” Betchart said. “It’s tough to separate basketball from life. You’re going to be who you are on the court, off the court. These skills, learning to control what you can control, being present, moving on after mistakes, this is what we leave in life as well, learning how to be vulnerable in life and do those things. It naturally gravitates towards life and … what’s going on in life. It’s a natural progression. They’re human beings who choose to play a sport for a living. They are not basketball players; Basketball is what they do.”

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN