In appreciation of Tommy Heinsohn

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In appreciation of Tommy Heinsohn

This afternoon in Houston, the Basketball Hall of Fame announced their 12 finalists for the Class of 2013, and among them was a name that's synonymous with greatness throughout the annals of Celtics history.

Of course, I'm talking about Gary Payton.

Nah. I'm kidding. The Glove is in there, but in this case I'm talking about Tommy Heinsohn. Yes, the same Tommy Heinsohn who was inducted into the Hall as a player back in 1986. And yes, the same Tommy Heinsohn who now has a chance to become only the third person EVER to be bestowed the ultimate basketball honor as both an NBA player AND a head coach.

At this point in time at least by the, let's say, 35-and-under generation Heinsohn's success on the sidelines is probably the most overlooked aspect of his career. Why? Well, it's been a really long career. And there are quite a few aspects. And you know kids today, with their Ataris and color TV . . .

Everyone remembers Tommy Heinsohn: The Player. That's what brought him to Boston to begin with back in 1956. April 30, 1956 was his draft date, to be exact. (For some perspective, that was two weeks after "videotape" was introduced and demonstrated for the first time at the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters convention in Chicago.) And Tommy was an instant success. He averaged 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds as a rookie, while also making the All-Star Game, winning Rookie of the Year and helping lead the C's to their VERY first NBA title. When he retired in 1965, Heinsohn had won eight titles in nine seasons and finished with career averages of 18.6 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. He was recognized for all this in 1986, when he earned his plaque in Springfield.

Everyone remembers Tommy Heinsohn: The Broadcaster, too. We live it every day. That's what keeps Tommy around, and has helped extend his legacy here in Boston for longer than anyone could have dreamed. And I don't say that to suggest that he shouldn't still be here, I'm just saying that it's been 57 years! No one's dreams extend that far. But we're all grateful that Tommy has. At least I am.

But for a nine-year period between The Player and The Broadcaster, there was Tommy Heinsohn: The Coach. From 1969-78, this guy led the Celtics to two more titles (meaning that he's had a heavy hand in 10 of 17). He won 427 games; he won .619 percent of his games. In 1973, he was the NBA Coach of the Year.

To be accurate, there was a brief broadcasting stint right after Heinsohn retired from playing (he did TV play-by-play for the Celtics), but he didn't hit the big time until after coaching.

Anyway, with today's announcement from the Basketball Hall of Fame, Heinsohn's somewhat overlooked coaching career is finally back in focus. And the fact that his nomination puts him on the brink of joining Lenny Wilkens and Bill Sharman as the only dual NBA playerhead coach Hall of Famers, is another reminder of just how legendary of a figure Heinsohn is. Not only in Boston, but in all of basketball.

So, will Heinsohn's name be called again when the official Class of 2013 is announced at the Final Four in Atlanta?

It's hard to say. Even though he's a big name, and won two rings from the bench, the truth is that his resume doesn't hold up all that well when compared to other Hall of Famers.

Today, there are 13 NBA head coaches in the Hall of Fame, and of that crew, 11 have won at least 600 games (Tommy only won 427). The two who didn't are former (obviously) Minneapolis Lakers coach John Kundla, who won 423 games, but won four titles; and the aforementioned Sharman, who won 466 games and two titles between the NBA and ABA.

As it turns out, Sharman (one of Tommy's former teammates) might be the best argument for why Heinsohn should get in. The numbers are very comparable, and when you consider that Heinsohn did all his damage in the NBA, it has to count for a little more. At the very least, Sharman gives Heinsohn a fighting chance. But in the end, whether he makes it or not, nothing will change how we ultimately remember Tommy Heinsohn.

Either way, it won't be as a coach. It won't be as a player. It won't be as a broadcaster.

It will be as a Celtic.

And something tells me that will be more than enough for Tommy.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

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Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

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Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

BOSTON – There’s a certain amount of mystery surrounding most players when they enter the NBA draft.

And then there’s 19-year-old Thon Maker, the 7-foot-1 Sudan-born basketball player who successfully challenged the NBA’s rule restrictions placed on high school players entering the league.                                                  

Maker reclassified academically in 2015 but elected to stay at Orangeville District Secondary School in Orangeville, Ontario for an additional year which was later deemed a “post-graduate” year.

In doing so, he satisfied the NBA’s rules regarding draft-eligible players being one year removed from their graduating high school class as well as the league’s age requirement.

This will be the second straight draft where there will be at least one player who played their prep basketball in North American who did not play in college or professionally overseas prior to entering the draft.

Last season, the Dallas Mavericks selected Indian-born Satnam Singh in the second round with the 52nd overall pick. The 7-foot-2, 290-pound center played his prep basketball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

To be in such select company alone makes Maker’s journey to the NBA unique.

But in this narrative, that becomes more of a footnote as Maker’s path towards pro basketball has already taken him to three different continents (Africa, Australia and most recently North America) in which he has played for at least five different institutions.

CSNNE.com spoke to two different scouts, a league executive and an NBA assistant who was among those to see him play during a Basketball Without Borders event in 2015.

Their opinions of Maker’s chances of playing at the NBA level are kind of like the places Maker has played basketball – all over the map.

“There is no way this kid should be in this year’s draft,” one Eastern Conference scout told CSNNE.com. “He’s nowhere close to being ready to play or make any kind of impact that will help a team anytime soon. He’s one of those two years away from being two years away kind of players. If you take him near the end of the second round, he’s worth it. But a first-rounder? I just don’t see it.”

Another executive with a Western Conference team offered a similar assessment of Maker.

“He’s going to have to show some things that we haven’t seen yet, in workouts,” the executive told CSNNE.com. “Every draft has a player or two that you draft because he has upside, but he’s a project. That’s Thon Maker; a project with upside, the kind of upside that you’re probably not going to really see or really be helped by for years down the road.”

A second scout added, “He’s not ready for the NBA. Not even close. But this league drafts on potential and because of that, somebody will take him. It may not be until the second round, but he’ll be drafted by someone.”

However, one current NBA assistant had a chance to see him play at a Basketball Without Borders tournament and came away with a very different opinion of Maker.

“You immediately saw the separation of talent, of God-given ability,” the assistant coach told CSNNE.com. “He’s a multi-faceted player, a willing learner.”

Originally from Sudan, Maker was discovered by Edward Smith whose guidance has taken Maker on a basketball odyssey across the globe with stops in Louisiana, Virginian and most recently, Ontario.

During each stop, Maker's potential was evident.

But most of his best work came against questionable competition, the kind of thing that tends to raise eye-brows among NBA decision-makers.

As impressed as the assistant coach was with Maker, he too wonders how the 19-year-old will fare against bigger, stronger, more seasoned competition.

"We'll find out soon enough," the assistant coach said. "He's in the draft now. His skills, the good ones and the ones that need some work, will be on display for all to see."

Maker burst on the scene as an internet sensation a couple of years ago with a YouTube video that drew immediate comparisons to former Celtic Kevin Garnett.

But as more folks began to watch him play, the flaws to his game became more pronounced.

He is a 7-1 wing player with a lithe frame whose physical strength leaves a lot to be desired. While he has shown a great work ethic according to most scouts, he doesn’t have a true feel for the game in large part because he is so relatively raw.

And maybe most telling is how he has been on the floor with other above-average competition and more often than not, has done little to stand out as one of the better players competing.

Throw in the fact that he bypassed college altogether and it stands to reason that collectively there are more questions about his game than answers right now.

In an interview with Draft Express shortly after announcing he would enter this year’s draft, Maker shed some light on his controversial decision.

“When I found out I had the opportunity to enter this year's draft it was a no brainer to me,” Maker told Draft Express last month. “I've always had the dream of playing in the NBA and I feel that I am ready.”

Maker added, “When I had the chance to enter the Draft, I started of thinking about College versus Pro. The NBA game, talent, spacing, rotations, terminology, clock and practice time is so much more different than college. I watch a lot of ball, both games and practices. I felt that if I could do this full time, it would be great. If I went to college I could not see myself not taking my academics seriously. I would want to take serious classes and do well in them. I would have to split time in my focus. My approach is to always go all out and try to be the best if I'm going to do something.”

That’s why his decision to turn pro is not something that he says he will not have a change of heart about.

Players who enter the draft can pull out as late as May 25.

But listening to Maker, that doesn’t seem to be an option he’s giving any thought.

“I'm all in,” he said. “If you're doing something you have to be confident in your choice. This process is not a game. I've played with NBA players before and their approach is business like, even though they are having fun out there.”
 
When pressed on whether he would consider withdrawing from the draft if he doesn’t like the feedback he’s hearing during the pre-draft process, Maker reiterated his position.

“As I said, I’m all in,” Maker said.

“He wants to be a star,” the assistant coach said. “He wants to be a star and I think he will be. I don’t want to put too much on the kid before he gets a chance to get out there and show what he can do. But as of right now, in my heart of hearts I feel the kid is going to be a special player.”