Pressey's mental toughness an asset

Pressey's mental toughness an asset
July 9, 2013, 3:45 pm
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ORLANDO, Fla. — The pressure was on . . . by summer-league standards, at least.

Celtics guard Phil Pressey was at the free throw line with the score tied and just a few seconds left on the clock. 

The first shot? Swish. 

Second one? Swish. 

And so the Celtics (2-1) escaped with a 76-74 win over Indiana.

But for Pressey, it was more than just a victory. It was yet another game in which the undrafted point guard from Missouri with strong Celtics ties, pushed himself even closer to being on the Celtics' opening day roster. 

"Phil, one of his greatest strengths is his mental toughness, his confidence in himself," said Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga who is running the C's summer league squad. "From a team standpoint, to have a point guard that has that confidence, you can put the ball in his hands and at the end of the game you know he's going to make free throws."

But the more you watch Pressey play, the clearer it becomes that he can do more than just knock down free throws or find teammates for easy baskets. 

He grabbed key rebounds. He deflected passes. He fought through screen after screen after screen, rarely leaving his man open long enough to get a good look at the basket. 

Pressey finished with 11 points off the bench along with a game-high five assists and three steals.

New Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has been pleased with what he has seen out of Pressey as well. 

"I like Phil," said Stevens who added, "there are some things that he can certainly get better at and he will. He'll work hard to do it."

Pressey's eagerness was evident to Stevens from their first interaction.

"Right when I got the job, I sent a text message out that night," Stevens recalled. "He (Pressey) called me within about a minute after I sent the text. He wants to be good."

But Pressey knows that can only happen by continuing to do what he seems to do best, and that's work on every facet of his game. 

Pressey is confident that his strong work ethic has been a key to him being on the cusp of being an NBA player. 

But there was a time -- last month, actually -- when he wondered to himself whether he was giving as much as he could to becoming a better player. 

That would have been on draft night when he was not among the sixty players selected. 

Pressey said one of his first thoughts was, "Maybe I wasn't working hard enough." 

He then added, "I knew I was working hard, but that (not being drafted) just humbled me. That just told me to work even harder. I was in the next day, getting up shots and working out. I know I'm good enough to play at this level. Just when the opportunity presents itself I just have to be ready."
 
Pressey's father Paul, a former Celtics assistant coach who also was an 11-year NBA veteran who pioneered the "point-forward" position that is so prevalent today, has talked a number of times to his son about what to expect as a pro basketball player. 

"The game is full of more talent. You're not the fastest. You're not the only one that's skilled," the elder Pressey recalled. "Everybody on the floor has skill. They got speed, they got size. So you have to make adjustments, too. He's smart enough to figure that out. It's just gonna take time on the floor at this level to figure it out."

But as an undrafted rookie free agent, time is not on Pressey's side. 

Opportunities to impress are not guaranteed on summer league teams, so when they materialize -- like the game-winning free throws he sank on Tuesday -- those moments have to be pounced upon. 

But much like those pressure-filled free throws he calmly knocked down, Pressey isn't stressing over his uncertain future with the Celtics. 

There's no doubt that they have strong interest in him, and they have been pleased with how he has performed thus far in summer league. 

With a roster that's in the middle of a major overhaul, there's no telling how many quality players will be cut loose simply because there's just not enough room. But that won't dampen Pressey's spirits, not knowing he's so close to being in the NBA with the team he grew up rooting for as kid.

"As soon as I found the perfect fit for me, the perfect team where I can go out there and prove myself, it was smooth sailing from there," Pressey said. 

And not being drafted has only made him more motivated to prove himself, something he has had to do countless times as an undersized (5-foot-11 in sneakers) point guard.

"Because of his size, he was always the underdog," said his father Paul. "For a long time, he used to have a chip on his shoulder. Now he's got a log on there. He has a different attitude. He has something to prove, that he's better than people think."

Paul Pressey added, "That's what makes him the kind of player he is today. It's because he has that chip on his shoulder -- I mean log."