Ryan Hollins vividly remembers the first time he met Kevin Garnett.
It was during an offseason pickup game in California in the summer of 2002. Hollins was entering his freshman year at UCLA and Garnett was one of the top players in the NBA. The teenager was awestruck.
Im like, man thats Kevin Garnett. Wow. Thats Kevin Garnett right there, Hollins, who signed with the Celtics last week, recalled. Then Im playing against him, so Im like Ive got to get my A-game. I had never seen somebody my size that could move like I do and shoot and shoot jumpers and it take it to the hole. Id never seen that.
He goes hard all the time and he talks all the time. How he is in Game 7 of the Finals, hes doing that in pick up games. Its like, wow.
Hollins entered the league in 2006 and crossed paths with Garnett during both NBA and summer games. At seven feet tall, Hollins admired the way Garnett dominated as a big man.
He wanted to learn from the veteran and began picking his brain whenever they were together. Last year Hollins saw Garnett more often due to the lockout and took advantage of the extended offseason.
This summer in particular we had a chance to really bond, he said. The way he talks, the way he communicates, his attention, his intensity, thats what I want to take into my game and be better with.
The relationship was not one-sided. Garnett saw potential in the 27 year old. He saw drive and hunger to win. He saw the things he likes to see in a player.
I had a chance to spend some time with him this summer, said Garnett. Summertime is the time when youre working on things, but for me, I dont make a lot of friends and I can say that I made one in him now. I like the way the kid approaches the game, he wants to be more than good. You see it in his face, you see it in his work ethic. Im a big fan of his. So Im glad hes here and whatever like any other of the young guys that are here, whatever he wants to know, Im here for him.
Hollins feeds off of Garnetts intensity and has incorporated it into his game over the years. With that also has to come a sense of control. Hollins picked up a technical foul in his Celtics debut on Friday less than a minute after checking into the game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
I told him be careful about my intensity because itll get him kicked out of the league, Garnett said with a smile. His first game in Philly he got a fine and he got a tech like 30 seconds into the game so you might want to be careful with that. This intensity comes with a sense of meditation and a sense of under control. But I love his intensity. Kid plays really, really hard.
Said Hollins, You dont want your problem to be, 'hey my big man was soft tonight' (laughs). Its not going to be a problem of mine. Im going to be ready to go. But I never want to do anything to hurt the team.
One area of his game Hollins is specifically focusing on is his rebounding. In spite of his size, he is averaging just over two boards per game this season and 2.3 for his career overall. Garnett, on the other hand, is grabbing 8.2 per game. Hollins has promised to eat, sleep rebounding as a member of the Cs.
I am a guy thats going to play really hard, a guy thats going to get better, he said. Thats the plan (to surprise people). Coming to a veteran team will make things easy. I want to prove I belong here. I want to win. I didnt come here just to be here. I want to win. I want to be a part of something. This is special here.
Just as he has done over the years, Hollins will continue to seek advice from Garnett. The two sit one locker away from each other and Hollins plans to stay within earshot.
Youd be a fool to never take his advice, he said. 17 years in the NBA, how many All-Star appearances, I can go down the list. I learned about his intensity night in and night out. Its not just one day, or Im having a bad day, its every single time. Same thing. For a guy to play hard for 17 years in the NBA, I dont know what to compare that to.