Different paths to Boston for Johnson and Moore

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Different paths to Boston for Johnson and Moore

By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com Follow @JCameratoNBA
The 12-year-old could play. So well, in fact, that the coaches from East Chicago High School in Indiana had been watching him since he was in the sixth grade, eagerly awaiting the day until he could suit up for their basketball team. There was no doubt ETwaun Moore was talented.

Two hundred miles south in Franklin, coaches there werent as sure about another 12-year-old. JaJuan Johnson was lanky and reserved, but his length was intriguing. Seeing potential in his height, they kept him on the team, a decision that would pay off ten years later.

Johnson and Moores early basketball careers started out differently, but after playing four years together on the Purdue University mens basketball team, they are embarking on the same journey after joining the Boston Celtics in the 2011 NBA Draft.

The fact he was tall saved him.

The text message came across Mark James phone: Im going to be a Celtic.

Looking back on the first time they met, the former Franklin Central High School basketball coach had no idea he would one day read those words from JaJuan Johnson.

I saw a kid that was 12, very shy. We saw an upside because of his length and he could run and catch, but man, we had no clue, James recalled to CSNNE.com in a telephone interview. He came to camp, was a real skinny boy, and they almost cut him in the seventh grade. The fact he was tall saved him.

James watched Johnson progress during basketball camps throughout middle school, become a starter on the ninth-grade team, and go on to start for the junior varsity team as a sophomore. Johnson played under James on the varsity team during his final two years in high school.

We saw him grow up as a basketball player, said James, now the head coach at Ben Davis High School (IN). He never played AAU basketball and he didnt have many bad habits, just a lot of innate ability to play the game when he came into middle school.

James recognized Johnsons potential and wanted to help him become the best player he could be. There was no hand-holding, no gushing over each basket for the player who would grow into a 6-foot-10, 221-pound power forward.

James pushed Johnson to succeed, and in turn, Johnson pushed himself. His self-motivation would eventually bolster his game and catch the attention of the Celtics, who acquired his draft rights at the 27th pick through a trade with the New Jersey Nets in exchange for 25th overall pick Marshon Brooks and the Nets' 2014 second-round pick.

With JaJuan, it was never, Youre a good basketball player or a great basketball player, James said. It was always, You need to work hard, be competitive, do the best you can, have a positive attitude, control the things you can.

With kids now talking about how good they are, I think they hear that now from everyone else, so my thing always with him was, he had to work hard, be humble, and just compete and not compare himself to anyone. I think he learned those lessons very well.

When the gyms opened at 6:30 a.m. before the school day began, Johnson was there, ready to work. And when James had advice to offer, Johnson was there ready to listen.

James considers Johnson a real joy to be around and says players like that dont come around every day.

Hes a very coachable young man, James said. He always liked to learn, very likeable and teachable kid. A lot of kids, when you try to teach them things they take it as criticism and dont respond well to it. Hes just the opposite. He wants to do better with everything he does. When you talk to him about things, hell listen, hell take time to do it the way you want it done. Hes a pleaser kid and those kids are hard to come by for coaches. I think the Celtics will like him a lot because of that.

Over the course of his high school career, Johnson became stronger, improved his ability to run, capitalized on his athleticism, and worked on his mid-range jumper.

Always grounded, Johnson focused on making improvements. As a senior, he was named to the Indiana All-Star Team and averaged 20.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 4.3 blocks per game in his final year.

Toward the end of his sophomore year going into his junior year, it became evident he was going to become a big-time college player, he said. Then I think at the end of his senior year in high school, he was starting to understand just how good maybe he could be.

Johnson went on to play at Purdue University, where he earned several accolades, including Big Ten Player of the Year, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Consensus First-Team All-American, and Pete Newell National Big Man of the Year, following a 20.5 point, 8.6 rebound, 2.3 block per game senior campaign.

The tall, lanky kid who was almost cut from his seventh grade team had established himself as a talented big man ready to contribute in the NBA.

Its sort of been like the ugly duckling story, James said with a laugh. I bet if youd ask him, hed still say youd have to pinch him. This has been something he focused in on a lot in college. . . . Hes a product of hard work, great attitude, and great effort on his part.

I could tell he was going to go places back then.

Growing up there was no way for ETwaun Moore to know that on June 23, 2011, he would be drafted 55th overall by the Celtics. Abe Brown, though, had a feeling the day would come when Moore would hear NBA commissioner David Stern call his name.

Like most seventh- or eighth-graders, he had his eyes wide open, just wondering what was next for him. I dont think at that time he realized where he would be on that day," Brown, head coach of the East Chicago High School basketball team, told CSNNE.com in a telephone interview. I dont know about the Celtics, but I would have said he would be drafted. I could tell he was going to go places back then.

Brown was the high schools junior varsity coach when he met Moore as a seventh-grader. Then-varsity head coach Bobby Miles had begun watching him play the previous year, and Brown could see why.

Moore demonstrated a high basketball IQ and maturity at a young age with a skill set to match. He played against older students in the summertime, holding his own on the court. Moore, now a 6-4, 192-lb shooting guard, showed early promise.

He just went out and played hard, Brown recalled. His basketball IQ has always been high and at that point for a seventh grader, he probably had the basketball IQ of a tenth or eleventh grader with some of the things he was able to do out on the basketball court. It just was like when he went out and played, everything came naturally. There were things he needed coaching for, but there were a lot of things he was just able to go out and do on his own, I guess from his days of going out to the playground playing with the older kids.

Brown added, Not only is his basketball IQ high, his IQ overall in life I think is very high.

By the time Moore entered high school, he made the varsity team in his freshman season. In spite of the early promotion, Moore stayed grounded and focused on helping his teammates win. Brown, who also assisted on the squads varsity staff, says a strong family support system helped to instill a team-first mentality.

So when it came time to take the court, he didnt put on the ETwaun Moore Show, but he still got the job done. Moore averaged 21.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in his senior season and was named to the 2007 Indiana State All-Star Team.

Hes got a real calm demeanor, Brown said. Hes not going to be very flashy. Hes going to score on your opponent and you wont even realize because hes not the kind of guy to pump his chest, throw his hands in the air to the crowd. Hes a silent assassin, I would call him. Hes going to go out and do everything you need him to do and beyond.

Moore gave the Cardinals all he had and then some when he scored 28 points to lead his team to the 2007 4A State Championship, defeating North Central High School and future Los Angeles Clipper Eric Gordon. He earned the Arthur L. Trester Award for Mental Attitude in the win.

That day, Brown says, he saw something special in Moore.

The day of the state championship game, we were in the hotel and he got all the guys together right before the coaches addressed them, Brown said, He was like, Guys, weve just got to go out there and take care of business. This is what weve worked all our lives for. That was one of the first times I saw a real fire in his eyes and he spoke up to the team, like weve got to go out there and take care of things. He went out there and helped win our school our first state championship.

Following winning the high school title, Moore played four years of college basketball at Purdue University. He averaged 18.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in his senior year. Among his accolades, he won the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award and became the second player from Purdue to be named All-Big Ten four times.

He has always been a leader, a stand-up kid, always on time, never had any problems out of him. Brown said. He always came in and played his hardest, did everything he was supposed to do and then some. He is deserving of what he got, going to the NBA.

It was only fitting that Moore carried himself with the same composure on draft night that he has on the court his whole life. Brown was with Moore and his family and friends as they watched more than 50 players get selected. Moore, though, didnt show any nerves as the picks began to run out.

He was just sitting in front of the TV, Brown recalled. Some people that were there were getting down when it was getting close to the end and he hadnt got drafted, but he sat there calm cool and collected like he wasnt worried, like he was going to overcome it and something good was going to happen. Then when he finally got the call before they announced it, he actually didnt say anything but people could tell he was about to get drafted. He kind of whispered to his sister, Im going to Boston, and she jumped up and hollered and everybody knew he was going to get drafted from that.

After watching Moore give consistent dedication, hard work, and selflessness over the last 10 years, Brown believes Moore will bring the same qualities to the Celtics organization and community and represent them well.

Brown always had a feeling this day would come for Moore, and he is proud to see it is happening with such a historic team.

Its just amazing when you think of Boston and you know ETwaun will have that green and white on, Brown said. Its going to be something special to see.

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.com!JCamerato

NBA Question of the Day: Who will be the MVP?

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NBA Question of the Day: Who will be the MVP?

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From now until training camps open, we'll be asking questions about the NBA and the upcoming season. Today: Who will be the NBA MVP?

BOSTON – It’ll be months before we have a feel for who the best players in the NBA will be this season.
 
But it’s never too soon to start looking at potential NBA candidates, is it?

This year’s MVP race will have plenty of contenders of course, some being familiar faces while there’s likely to be at least one or two who emerge as the season progresses.
 
Here’s a look at five players who should emerge as league MVP candidates this season:
 

5. Damian Lillard, Portland
 
Only 26 years old, the former rookie of the year award winner has been selected to a pair of All-Star games. But that’s not what will make him an MVP candidate this season. He plays for the Blazers, a team whose rebuild following LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure to San Antonio, has taken off quicker than expected.
 
Expectations were extremely low for a Portland team that shocked the NBA world and finished with the fifth-best record in the West and advanced to the second round last season.
 
Terry Stotts emerged as one of the league’s better coaches and guard C.J. McCollum garnered the league’s Most Improved Player award.
 
But the engine that makes the Blazers go is Lillard.
 
The 6-foot-2 guard’s ability to score from the perimeter, off the dribble and all points on the floor, makes him an extremely difficult cover.
 
And while the addition of ex-Celtic Evan Turner will help take some of the playmaking pressure off Lillard, this is still his team and will go only as far as he can lead them.
 

4. LeBron James, Cleveland
 
As we saw in Cleveland’s run towards the franchise’s first NBA title last season, James can become the most dominant player at both ends of the floor when the game matters most. And while those qualities will certainly make him one of the best in the game, James isn’t likely to be as dominant as we’ve seen in past years.
 
And the reason can be summed up in two words: Kyrie Irving.
 
Irving really had a coming out of sorts in the NBA Finals when he outplayed two-time league MVP Stephen Curry which was one of the biggest reasons for Cleveland’s championship aspirations coming to fruition.
 
And let’s face it.
 
James can win this award every year and those who vote for him would have plenty of legitimate reasons to do so.
 
But this season, James will likely be sharing more of the limelight than ever with Irving who may be called upon to pick up more of the offensive slack depending on how things play out with free agent J.R. Smith.
 

3. Stephen Curry, Golden State
 
As the reigning league MVP each of the past two seasons, it will be difficult for Curry to do enough to garner a 3-peat.
 
When he won his first MVP award, Golden State was poised to win its first NBA title in 40 years. And last season’s MVP hardware came at the tail-end of an unprecedented season in which Golden State became the gold standard for regular season success with 73 wins.

But this regular season will be one in which Curry’s numbers are likely to take a dip with the arrival of Kevin Durant.

Still, Curry will continue to be the player most of the league’s shooting guards are measured against and far more often than not, fall short in their efforts to be as good as Curry.
 
The addition of Durant will certainly shift some of the immense on-the-floor attention Curry usually gets, which should make for an easier time for Curry.
 
But here’s the thing.
 
Just like opponents will be focusing more attention towards Durant, the same holds true for the media and fans which means Curry may in fact become a more efficient player this year with fewer folks actually recognizing it.
 

2. Paul George, Indiana
 
With a year back in the game following a horrific knee injury, Paul George is poised to re-enter the league MVP race with a vengeance.
 
The 6-9 George comes into this season with a number of factors working out in his favor to at least give his candidacy a legitimate shot of getting started.
 
For starters, he’s as healthy as he has been in years. In the past few years, that has been one of the biggest factors that has kept him from being in the league MVP conversation. Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird has assembled a talented group whose collective strengths work well with what George brings to the game.
 
And speaking of the Pacers, those additions along with George’s ability should lift Indiana into being among the top five or six teams in the East. The closer to the top they finish, the better George’s chances become.
 

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State

Even though Durant has joined a Golden State team that has been to the NBA Finals each of the past two seasons, he will come in and immediately become the alpha male of this team.

Durant probably won't wind up winning a fifth scoring title, but he will still be among the leagues’ top scorers and lead the Warriors offensively.
 
And while the success of Golden State will hinge heavily on the contributions of many, their regular season success will be credited in large part to the addition of Durant which can only enhance his chances of winning league MVP for a second time in his career.
 
He will be the first to tell you that his focus going into this season has absolutely nothing to do with being the NBA’s MVP.
 
And I believe him.
 
Durant signed with Golden State to win a championship; it’s that simple.
 
And in doing so, he bypassed the comfort of staying with Oklahoma City or penning a new narrative in his basketball journey by joining a team trending towards a championship but not quite there yet.
 
But for him to win a championship, it would mean continuing to be a dominant force while meshing his skills with an even more talented group of teammates.
 
For Durant to put up numbers similar to those he has in the past AND win more games towards a title, will be more than enough to assert his place among the game’s top players.
 
It’s what you would expect from the MVP. 

Celtics Question of the Day: Is Brad Stevens' honeymoon over?

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Celtics Question of the Day: Is Brad Stevens' honeymoon over?

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From now until the opening of training camp, we'll be asking a question about the Celtics and the upcoming season. Today: Is the honeymoon over for coach Brad Stevens?
 
BOSTON – When the Celtics convinced Brad Stevens to leave behind an incredibly successful college coaching career at Butler (two national title runner-up finishes) to become their head coach in 2013, the Celtics were immediately credited with having added one of the brightest young basketball minds to the family.
 
Three years into the job and Stevens has shown tangible improvement with Boston having won more games from each season to the next.
 
But this 2016-2017 campaign will be unlike any that Stevens has had while at the helm in Boston.
 
While the expectations each year have been greater than their immediate predecessor, Boston now finds itself going into the season as one of the hunted in the East as opposed to being well entrenched among the hunters.
 
Westgate Las Vegas Sportsbook released its win total odds last week for NBA teams., predicting the Celtics (51.5) will be one of five teams (Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers were the others) expected to win at least 50 games.
 
But as we all have seen, expectations and actual results don’t always mesh.
 
Stevens has enjoyed a tremendous amount of support from the franchise and fans throughout his first three seasons.
 
But if Boston fails to live up to the increased expectations, does that mean the honeymoon for Stevens is over?
 
While anything is possible when it comes to Celtics Nation, it will take more than one sub-par season for him to lose the support of the team’s fan base.
 
Here are three reasons why regardless of how the Celtics fare this season, "In Brad we trust" will remain in effect.
 
YOUNG NUCLEUS
 
Boston has a roster full of what league execs like to refer to as "Young Veterans."
 
A great example of this is 27-year-old Isaiah Thomas who is heading into his sixth NBA season.
 
Thomas, a first-time all-star last year, has seen enough of the league to not be confused with a youngster. That said, he’s still young and has enough upside to where you can’t classify him as a grizzled veteran, either.
 
Because that makes up the majority of this Celtics roster, it speaks volumes about how this group still has a tremendous amount of room to grow going forward.
 
And because of that potential and Stevens’ track record of getting the most out of his players, you won’t see him or the Celtics panic if this season doesn’t play out the way they envision it.
 
STRONG FOUNDATION
 
In Stevens’ first year coaching the Celtics, there was a definite talent gap between what Boston put on the floor and what they had to deal with on the opposing bench.
 
And yet there they were most nights, fighting and clawing their way towards a competitive game that no most nights ended with a loss.
 
The silver lining in that 25-win season was how this Celtics team played with a never-give-up mentality, a trait they saw first-hand from their coach Brad Stevens.
 
Regardless of whether they were up 25 points or trailing, Stevens maintained an even-keeled demeanor that quietly accomplished a number of things.
 
For starters, it provided a sense of confidence among the players that their head coach wasn’t going to get rattled by a rough night or a stretch of rough nights.
 
Regardless of the results, Stevens was going to continue working towards getting better.
 
That was his approach when they were struggling to win games, and it remained in place last season when they spent a good chunk of the year ranked among the top teams in the East.
 
So with that being established as part of the foundation under Stevens, that foundation combined with better talent collectively led to more wins.
 
EVEN-KEELED LEADERSHIP
 
Stevens and the Celtics are now at a crossroads in which the steady improvement we’ve seen now must take that all-important next step and become one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.
 
Again, it is much easier said than done but as every Celtics player will tell you, is definitely doable.
 
While Cleveland remains the standard bearer in the East, it is very wide open afterwards with Boston, Toronto and Atlanta the most likely teams to contend for the No. 2 spot in the East.
 
The mood is always a positive, upbeat one on the eve of training camp.
 
But the Celtics have more reasons than usual to be optimistic about their upcoming season which kicks off with training camp this week.
 
They have better depth with the additions of rookie Jaylen Brown and veterans Gerald Green and four time all-star Al Horford. Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder all return with the mindset being to build off of what worked for them last season.
 
And then there’s Stevens who has quickly established himself as a bright, up-and-comer in the coaching world.
 
But at some point, all that promise and potential he has shown as a coach has to ultimately lead to big-time production.
 
And the pressure that comes with that tends to build when the honeymoon that all coaches enjoy, is officially over.
 
Stevens is getting close to that point, but he isn’t there yet.
 
Much of his success will still be based on players striving towards reaching their potential.
 
Because of that, he won’t catch too much heat if the team underachieves in what will be a season in which the expectations have never been higher.
 
But that’s OK.
 
Because regardless of how the stakes may be, Stevens will continue to be an even-keeled, level-headed leader that Celtics Nation won’t turn its back on anytime soon.