BOSTON — Shavlik Randolph is a relatively modest and humble guy when it comes to his athletic skills.
But get the Boston Celtics big man to talk about his ping-pong game and Mr. Modest becomes a pale, taller, fuller-haired version of Chad Ochocinco, who not that long ago wouldn't hesitate to let you or your favorite about-to-be-torched defensive back know how talented he was.
"I'm not going to be modest; I'm great, actually," Randolph, grinning, said about his ping-pong prowess.
It is a game that relies heavily on the eyes and hands being on a string; on not just guessing, but knowing, where the ball is going to be before it gets there.
Randolph applies those same traits to his rebounding game, which has been surprisingly strong in his relatively short time with the Celtics.
Although Randolph is averaging 4.7 rebounds in 12 games for the Celtics, he's doing it in just 13.1 minutes per game.
To put his rebounding success in proper perspective, per 36 minutes his rebounding average jumps to 12.8 per game.
When examining more highly-regarded rebounders and their per-36-minute average, Randolph's rebounding is actually better than the league's top rebounder, Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12.6); future Hall of Famer and San Antonio legend Tim Duncan (12.0); New York's Tyson Chandler (11.7), and arguably the most famous Randolph in the NBA, Memphis' Zach Randolph (11.6).
Shavlik Randolph's rebounding skills, much like shooting or passing, have been honed from years and years of practice.
Mike Hollis has worked with Randolph's rebounding dating back to Randolph's freshman year at Broughton High School in Raleigh, N.C.
While both Hollis and Randolph attribute some of his rebounding success to his willingness to embrace what has been more than a decade spent learning how to become a better rebounder, some of it is just God-given talent, too.
"The ball seemed to have a way of finding him," Hollis told CSNNE.com in a phone interview. "He could go into the shower, clean up, and the ball would be waiting for him in the hallway. He was that good, all the time."
While flattered, Randolph acknowledges that his rebounding success of late has to do with two things: hard work and staying healthy.
He recalls drills as a teenager under Hollis' watchful eye in which he would be on the court and have to rebound for two or three players shooting the ball with a relatively short period of time between shots.
"My goal was to not let the ball hit the floor," Randolph said.
Hollis recalls drills with multiple shooters behind the arc while Randolph and maybe another player would have to listen for plays to be called, certain shooters to be told to shoot and Randolph would have to get to the spot where he thought the ball would be before it got there.
It wasn't easy, but it was clear to Hollis even then that Randolph was a special talent - and not just because he was a 6-8 high school freshman, either.
"Not only did he listen with his ears, but he listened with his eyes," said Hollis, founder of Networks Basketball (www.networksbasketball.com), which has trained and developed young basketball players since 1993.
And what Hollis saw with his eyes was a blossoming basketball player who seemed focused on doing one thing every day in practice - find a way to get better.
"Over the years, what I recognized about him that's so, so different than many players: he can do the same thing over and over again and he doesn't get bored with it," Hollis said. "Work ethic is a skill. I don't know if babies are born with work ethic; I think it's developed. And inside of that, what's also developed is this attention to this, 'I will do this over and over again.' You hear about really great athletes and you hear about really great pianists. They have that. They did it over and over and over again and they don't get bored with it. There's a willingness to work at it, and Shav's willingness to work, he wanted to work at it and he wanted to hone it."
His hard work paid off handsomely, as he finished his high school career as one of the most decorated basketball players in the tradition-rich state of North Carolina.
A McDonald's All-American and two-time Parade All-American, Randolph set a slew of school records that were previously held by future NBA Hall of Famer Pistol Pete Maravich.
Randolph had size, skills and he was on his way to Duke, where dreams of helping lead the Blue Devils to a national championship danced happily in his mind.
But life on the Durham, N.C. campus didn't exactly work out how he anticipated.
As a high school senior, life for Randolph could not have been much better. He was a dominant force on the floor, and looked every bit like a college stud-in-the-making and eventual NBA talent.
It was a path all too familiar to his family, a path that was first blazed by his grandfather - and the man he was named after - Ronnie Shavlik, who was an All-American center at North Carolina State and became a first-round pick (fourth overall) of the New York Knicks in 1956.
Randolph played well as a senior, but started to have some discomfort around his hip area.
Little did he know that would be just one of the many injury-related setbacks in his college and pro basketball odyssey.
His first game with Duke was against Army, and he scored 23 points to go with 7 rebounds. Days later, he had notched his first double-double against Davidson.
From there, things got progressively worse with a slew of health-related setbacks, from sprained ankles to mononucleosis.
But the worst of them all was the hip surgery he underwent between his sophomore and junior year.
"I just couldn't play through the pain of it anymore," Randolph said.
Randolph returned, but he was never the same player and saw his playing time significantly reduced.
Disappointed at the time, in hindsight it might have been the best thing to happen to him.
"It really prepared me to handle the situations I found myself in as a pro in the NBA," Randolph said. "When I came back at Duke, they needed me to fill a specific role off the bench and I tried to do that. Here in the NBA, it's pretty much the same: come in, provide energy, defend, rebound and help my team win."
Boston is Randolph's fourth different NBA team. He's never appeared in more than 57 games in a season, and that was as a rookie in 2006 with Philadelphia.
While he has been an NBA role player, Randolph did showcase some offensive skills during his recent stint in China with the Foshon Long Lions, in which he averaged 32 points and 14.6 rebounds per game.
Randolph's success in China certainly had a lot to do with him being better than the competition.
But more than that, Randolph believes being free from any kind of significant injury was important.
Said Randolph: "I told people, when I can string together a few years in a row without an injury - or a career-threatening or career-altering one, like the hip - and be able to just work and concentrate on my game and not have to worry about getting back healthy, I've proven I can be an effective player at this level."
DELIVERING FOR THE CELTICS
He certainly has for the Celtics, who gave him back-to-back 10-day contracts before signing him for the remainder of the season and partially guaranteeing him next season.
Not only is Randolph with the Celtics for the rest of the year, but he's also making a strong case to be in the C's playoff rotation ahead of another Raleigh native, Chris Wilcox.
With Kevin Garnett (inflammation, left foot) back after having missed eight straight games, coach Doc Rivers elected to use Randolph first off the bench in Sunday's win over Washington and came with Wilcox in the second quarter.
Rivers has gone out of his way to leave the battle for backup minutes as wide open as possible, but it's clear Randolph is making it extremely tough for Rivers to go into the postseason without having him in the mix as far as playing time.
"He’s playing great," Rivers said of Randolph. "Just leave it at that; he’s just playing great basketball and we’re going to keep playing him.”
And Randolph will continue to embrace each and every opportunity he gets, well aware that much of his success will hinge on his ability to continue impacting the game with his rebounding.
And while many of the game's better rebounders do so with their size or athleticism, the 6-10 Randolph sees a different path - literally - to being a beast on the boards.
Not a game passes where the visualization drills that he began as a high school freshman with Hollis, don't in some way help him out in a game.
"I'm going up against guys that are bigger than me, more athletic than me on this level," he said. "I have to be able to anticipate well. That's a big part of rebounding, just being able to anticipate where the ball is going to be. That's something that we put an emphasis on, whether I was doing offensive drills or defensive drills. We did a lot of stuff that worked on my anticipation of things; that's something I was able to develop with him at an early age."
And it shows in his knack for getting rebounds . . . and in playing ping-pong too.