Red knew what he was getting

Red knew what he was getting
July 24, 2013, 12:45 pm
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BOSTON -- Jim Calhoun wanted to know just like most folks back in 1987 whether the Celtics were serious about drafting Reggie Lewis.

Calhoun, Lewis' head coach at Northeastern at the time, knew all too well how the late Red Auerbach kept everything close to the vest -- especially when it came to players he wanted to bring into the Celtics family.

"Red would never tip his hand," said Calhoun, who later went on to coach UConn where he won three national titles. "A lot of questions, but no response from Red."

Calhoun said he knew they were interested, but "little did I know that they were begging that he lasted on that board so they could take him."

There was some talk of the Celtics moving up in the first round to select Lewis.

But the C's held firm with the No. 22 pick, convinced that the teams ahead of them were afraid to take a chance on a skinny guard/forward from a mid-major school like Northeastern.

When the Dallas Mavericks selected Alabama shooting guard Jim Farmer with the No. 20 pick, the Atlanta Hawks were on the clock at No. 21 and were expected to go with a big man.

The Hawks selected 6-foot-9 big man Dallas Comegys out of Depaul, leaving the Celtics to select Lewis, the man they had wanted all along.

"The Boston Celtics, with the twenty-second pick of the 1987 NBA draft, select Reggie Lewis of Northeastern," said NBA commissioner David Stern who was greeted to a coronation of boos.

And so the Lewis era in Boston began.

While there were certainly questions surrounding the C's drafting Lewis because of his local connection -- Northeastern's campus is located in Boston -- Auerbach put those concerns to bed quickly in explaining the rationale behind the Celtics' decision to select Lewis who at the time was listed as being 6-foot-7, 183 pounds.

"We've watched him quite a bit, but not only because he's local," Auerbach said. "He can play a big guard; he knows where the hoop is. He drives very well towards the basket. He gives us a dimension that we need in case Danny Ainge or Dennis Johnson gets hurt. We got another big guard."

And as it turned out, another big talent as well.

"This young man has the type of skills that I think will allow him to fit into the Boston Celtics type of basketball playing which is good, smart fundamental basketball," Hall of Famer Rick Barry said at the time.

By Calhoun's count, he has had 36 players drafted by the NBA, a list that includes former Celtics like Ray Allen who he coached at UConn.

But as much as Calhoun understands he played a role in them being in position to be NBA players, he makes sure he's in the shadows that night.

"That's their night," Calhoun said.

But he did make a point of checking it out on TV.

And while there has been a sense of pride taken with all of the players he has coached who were drafted, there was something different about seeing Lewis' name called by the Celtics of all teams.

"My eyes welled up," admitted Calhoun who grew up in Braintree, Mass. "Because he was one of the special ones. I truly believe he's as good a player as I've ever had the privilege to coach. But he was an incredible person. There's a love for Reggie and about Reggie that his teammates truly believed and yet Reggie was never a vocal leader."

Calhoun said Andre LaFleur, a fifth-round draft pick of Houston that year, was the more vocal leader.

"And yet Reggie held everything together because he was that special a person," Calhoun said.

Lewis' patience may have been his most under-rated quality.

He was leaving Northeastern as the school's all-time leading scorer (2,708 points) as well as one of the greatest scorers in Division I history to join a Celtics roster in which he would have to play in the enormous shadows of players like Larry Bird and Kevin McHale.

"If he ever got frustrated, you never saw it," said Jeff Twiss, the Celtics' Vice President of media and alumni relations. "Because every time Reggie would come out for practice or a shoot-around or game, he's always smiling, always consistent, always goes out and does his job, he never whined about it."

Twiss added, "Did he want to play more? Heck yeah. What kid wouldn't? But he realized there would be place in time for him; just be patient."

And that patience, much like the Celtics' patience in hoping he would slip to them at No. 22 in the 1987 draft, paid off handsomely.

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