Military upbringings shaped a trio of Celtics

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Military upbringings shaped a trio of Celtics

By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com

Shaquille O'Neal, Ray Allen, and Avery Bradley have more in common than the uniforms they wear.

The trio of Boston Celtics grew up in military families. Even though they lived in different parts of the world -- and, in some instances, nearly 20 years apart -- they all bring a similar sense of work ethic, discipline, and respect to the Celtics organization.

ONeal, Allen and Bradley explained to CSNNE.com how their military upbringings have impacted their careers today.

Shaquille O'Neal: He always taught me to have a plan, and my plan was to be one of the best big men ever.

Shaquille O'Neal wasnt always the happy-go-lucky personality he is today. Before he was starring in movies, posing as a statue in Harvard Square, and challenging Justin Bieber to dance-offs on "Shaq Vs.," ONeal attracted attention for all the wrong reasons.

"I got disciplined so much as a youngster, he recalled. "I used to be in so many fights, used to be in trouble all the time."

ONeal grew up in a military home under the watchful eye of his father, Army Sergeant Philip Harrison. Harrison was a drill instructor by day and worked for U-Haul by night.

He taught O'Neal the importance of a strong work ethic -- "Do whatever it takes to make the family happy," ONeal said -- and imparted the value of helping others.

O'Neal recalls Harrison earning extra money and using it to buy blankets and clothing from a thrift store. He then gathered up troops to help deliver the items to the Salvation Army.

On another day, Harrison put his extra money toward hamburgers and gave them to a homeless man on the street.

Then there was the time Harrison was coaching O'Neal's basketball team and a player got hurt. Harrison canceled practice and brought the team to visit sick children at a local hospital. He wanted them to realize how fortunate they were.

"Those things that I saw him do," said ONeal, "That's where I do all the charity work from."

Yet in spite of Harrison's lessons and stern military upbringing, O'Neal didn't always follow the rules. He estimates his family re-located every four years, and he made his mark along the way.

Growing up, O'Neal moved from Newark, N.J., to Hinesville, Georgia. It was there that he beat up another student so badly that the studen suffered a seizure. "That stopped me from being a bully," he said.

But trouble continued when Harrison was stationed in Germany. As a teenager, O'Neal became involved with a group dubbed "The Furious Five," who had a reputation for causing problems. O'Neal had been brought up to know better, though, and made the decision to walk away.

"They stole a car and went to a party that night but the car crashed and one of them died," O'Neal said. "I was supposed to be in that car with him."

The towering teenager took heed to the lessons Harrison had taught him. He focused on basketball and mapped out a career path for himself. O'Neal moved from Germany to San Antonio, Texas before beginning his collegiate career at Louisiana State University.

"It taught me work ethic," ONeal said of his military upbringing and his father's lessons. "He always taught me to have a plan, and my plan was to be one of the best big men ever. I think I've lived up to that plan thus far. Stat-wise, especially when it comes to points, there's only four guys in the history of the game that have done more than this. Championship-wise, there are about 10 to 15 guys that have more rings, but I think my name is up there and I think my name will never be forgotten. That's all I wanted to do as a basketball player."

O'Neal has accomplished his goal and then some. In addition to becoming one of the most iconic figures in the game, he is one of the most recognizable athletes off the court. With an approachable demeanor and larger-than-life personality, O'Neal has captured the attention of fans throughout his 18-year career.

He sees his likeability as a result of constantly having to adjust to new surroundings. Just as he learned to adapt while moving all over the world as a youngster, he's seamlessly transitioned to six different NBA teams. Growing up in New Jersey, Georgia, Germany, and Texas helped him when his basketball travels took him to Baton Rouge, Orlando, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland, and Boston.

"Because I moved around so much, I can deal with African-Americans, I can deal with Jewish people, I can deal with Arab people, I can deal with Persian people, and everybody loves me," he said. "Because of my background and how I was moved around and how I was raised, it helps me deal with everybody. And that's why I'm liked by everybody.

"Everybody loves me."

Ray Allen: Im always aware of what I say, what I do, how I have an effect on my teammates."

Ray Allen's discipline is not coincidental.

Growing up on Edwards Air Force Base in California, the son of Master Sergeant Walter Allen was taught about responsibilities and consequences at an early age.

It began with the requirement to carry an identification card at all times.

"It was very disciplined," Ray Allen said. "If you wanted to buy anything from the store, you had to show ID. Any time on base if you got pulled over, you had to show ID. So I think we had a sense of responsibility early in our lives."

With that ID card came accountability, as Allen's actions were tied to his father.

When he was around 10 years old, Allen was caught trying to steal Twizzlers from a shoppette on base. He remembers the sinking feeling as his mother was called to pick him up. Allen knew his attempt to snag candy could impact his entire family.

"It was the worst feeling I had," he said. "When you have a reprimand or they take you to the lock up, then they alert your dad and anything the kids do reflect back on him. If we did something bad, that could result in your dad losing pay or losing a stripe. I was just nervous because if he lost a stripe, that was less money for us, so you saw everything had something to do with the other. I was always worried about that."

Fortunately for Allen, nothing came of the incident. It did, however, make him realize the long-lasting effects of his personal decisions.

"Now I think about being in this realm of life and everything I do, it has some type of consequence or repercussion behind it, he said. "That's why I'm always aware of what I say, what I do, how I have an effect on my teammates."

When Allen was a teenager, his father was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. By that time, he was determined to make it in the NBA. Allen had first gained an interest in basketball when he lived in England and began playing in California. He believed he could make a name for himself in his new home.

"When I left California to move down south, each one of my friends in California knew I was going to make it," he said. "We always felt that the East Coast had better talent. It was true. I got out East and I was playing tougher competition."

Allen and his friends were right. He made his next move to play basketball at the University of Connecticut. Three years later, he was playing professional basketball in Milwaukee.

Allen's career has since taken him to Seattle and Boston. Over a thousand games and one championship later, he believes growing up in a military family has helped him manage a long NBA career.

"I just believe I've adjusted," he said. "Travel is not an issue. Relating to guys from different walks of live, adjusting and adapting to cultures, the weather, everything -- it's all adjustment and you just kind of fall in. You never think that it's a tough situation. This is just life. You just adjust to it, deal with it. Whatever's thrown at you, you just figure it out and find a way to make it better."

Avery Bradley: "I'm not going on the court playing around."

Some 19-year-old rookies could have been intimidated walking into a locker room and seeing the likes of Shaquille ONeal, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Others could have tried too hard to prove themselves.

Not Avery Bradley.

Growing up in the Bradley home, the most important rule was respect. Avery Bradley Sr., a high-ranking Army official, wanted his son to have respect for others, whether they were his elders, his family, or his peers.

Even if the younger Bradley didn't always understand it, his fathers message stuck.

"I thought it was just my dad being mean all time, but I guess it was for a reason because it made me a good man today," he said. "I'm respectful to people and I give it all to him because when I was young, he always wanted us to be respectful and give our all with everything we did. Still to this day, that's what I do."

Bradley spent the majority of his childhood in the Tacoma, Washington area. His family moved to Texas for a few years before returning up north, where his backyard bordered the Fort Lewis military base.

"It was super weird because it was the woods, so one day you might walk out and see a deer, the next morning you might walk out and see soldiers walking around with guns," he said. "It was different, it was crazy."

Bradley saw the results of hard work and dedication whenever he visited his father's office. He noticed the respect others held for his father, and he recognized the love his father had for his job.

That attitude translated on to the basketball court. Bradley won a national high school championship and was ranked the top high school player in the country in 2009. After just one season at the University of Texas, he was selected by the Celtics with the 19th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

"Every time I'd go out, I would really compete," he said. "I guess I got it from my dad because the Army is so competitive. They're so serious about everything, so that was my approach when I played sports. I would take everything seriously because that's how everything was in my household."

Now that Bradley, who turned 20 last week, has made it to the pros, he is following the values that got him there. The soft-spoken guard has patiently waited for his chance to play, rehabbing through ankle injuries and understanding his place on a veteran team.

Even though he is eager to help the Celtics on the court, he has respect for those who have earned their spots out there before him.

"I really respect the older guys, me being so young," he said. "Not only that, but I want to learn so much from them. They're older so they're serious all the time on the court, and that helps me out a lot. I'm not going on the court playing around. Im taking it serious because I know they're here to win a championship."

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comjcameratonba

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

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Thomas excited for reunion with Green

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the phone rang this summer, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas had to do a double-take when he saw the name on the caller ID.

It was Gerald Green, his ex-teammate in Phoenix.

Although they only shared a locker room for 45 games in Phoenix, the two became quick friends.

On the court they developed instant chemistry while coming off the Suns bench. And that bond spilled off the court as Green would later spend time with Thomas in the Seattle-Tacoma, Wash. area in the summer months.

They were cool with each other, cool enough to where Thomas knew it wasn’t in Green’s nature to pick up the phone and call just to say hi.

“Gerald doesn’t call anybody,” Thomas said. “When he called I knew something was up.”

Green said Boston, the team that drafted him in 2006 straight out of high school, was interested in bringing him back for a second stint with the club.

“I tried to put my two cents in and he got here,” Thomas said.

There were several factors that led Green back to Boston, with a chance to reunite with Thomas being high on that list.

Green, already in Phoenix at the time the Suns signed Thomas in 2014, was impressed with the way the 5-9 guard carried himself.

“He was a genuine guy, came in really humble,” Green said. “I saw the talent was there. I knew he had the potential to be one of the best point guards in this league.”

Thomas certainly made a case for such lofty praise with how he performed last season, good enough to earn his first all-star selection.

What really stuck out to Green was that Thomas’ mentality and approach to the game was almost a carbon copy of his own.

“When we stepped on the court we had the same mentality,” Green said. “By any means necessary, get a bucket and play harder than the next team; just try and push the first team, make the first team better every day.”

Thomas was coming off the bench, showing lots of potential and promise that he could carry a heavier load if given an opportunity to do so.

He averaged 15.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes off the Suns bench in 46 games. Even more significant was that when Thomas did play for the Suns, they were 26-20.

In the games without him, they were just 13-23.

Green was admittedly disappointed they traded away Thomas, believing that season would have had a very different outcome had they not sent him to Boston.

And just like Green recognized Thomas’ skills and how much his team could have benefited from keeping him around, Thomas speaks in glowing terms about Green and what his return to Boston means for the team.

“We needed someone like him; a guy that could shoot the ball, a guy that could space the floor; instant scorer whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Thomas said. “Where the he starts or come off the bench. He’s going to really help us.”

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

WALTHAM, Mass. – When the news came out that Al Horford was going to be a Boston Celtic, Amir Johnson couldn’t wait to meet his new teammate.

He didn’t have to.

Johnson soon found himself on plane headed to Atlanta to not only work out with Horford, but also try and work out some of the kinks that tend to come up among new teammates in those early days of training camp.

“I took it upon myself when I saw Al was part of the team, I automatically wanted to go down to Atlanta and work,” said Johnson who added that he brought his daughter along for the trip and they went to dinner with Horford’s family during the visit. “I thought it was great just to get that chemistry going. I just wanted to get to known him, make him feel comfortable.”

It’s still early in training camp, but Johnson and Horford seem to be meshing quite well on the floor. 

“The chemistry’s definitely coming along,” Johnson said. “I know when Al wants to roll or pop, and just working my way around it. Al’s more of a popper and eventually he’ll roll. It’s up to me to read whether I stay up or work the baseline.”

Johnson has been in the NBA long enough to know that often the keys to success are subtle nuances that may be overlooked by fans and spectators, but players know are essential to them being successful.

Being able to not only understand a player’s game but figure out how to play well with them, are critical to teammates being successful.

Last season, Johnson was Boston’s primary rim-protecting big man which is a role the 29-year-old Johnson has been cast in the last few years he was in Toronto. Horford brings a similar set of defensive skills to the table which gives Boston a true 1-2 defensive punch along the frontline.

“It’s big time,” Johnson said. “We communicate to each other. It’s all about communication out there; just knowing he can hold it down and he trusts me to hold it down. It’s key.”

GREEN INJURY UPDATE

Gerald Green is expected to get a few more days to rest his hip flexor injury which he said on Thursday was feeling better.

The injury should keep the 6-6 wing from participating in the team’s Green-White scrimmage on Friday, but it isn’t considered serious.

Still, Green is eager to get back and return to full contact work which is why he is getting a steady diet of treatments during the day and returning in the evening for more treatments from the Celtics’ medical staff.

“It’s almost like a precautionary thing; make sure it doesn’t get worst,” Green said.

The injury occurred earlier this week but Green could not pinpoint exactly what he did to suffer the injury.

“I don’t think I stretched properly,” Green said. “I’m not 25 no more. Just try to come out there and go at full speed. Those are things I’ve got to learn now I’m in my 30s.”
Indeed, one of the many benefits of being older now is that Green sees the big picture of things better now, which is why he isn’t trying to rush back to the floor too quickly.

As a veteran, it’s a long season,” Green said. “You’re not trying to do too much to make it worst. Training camp is important, but being healthy at the beginning of the season is even more important.”

RUN, YOUNGSTERS, RUN

Near the end of Thursday’s practice, the Celtics had a full court game of 3-on-3 involving some of the team’s rookies and end-of-the-bench training camp invitees like Jalen Jones of Texas A&M. The 6-7 undrafted rookie had a dunk over Jordan Mickey, a 3-pointer and another strong, uncontested flush at the rim in a matter of minutes. He’s likely to wind up with Boston’s Developmental League team, the Maine Red Claws.

With Thursday morning’s session being the team’s fifth practice this season, head coach Brad Stevens thought it was a good idea to get some of the team’s younger players on the court.

“It was good to play some 3-on-3,” said Stevens who added that it was good for their conditioning since a lot of the running at this point involves trying to get the starters and the likely rotation players as acclimated and familiar with one another as possible. “We try to do that occasionally even through the season just to get everybody up and down.”

TURNOVERS? WHAT TURNOVERS?

Five practices in the books and there’s only one thing that really has stood out to the eyes of Isaiah Thomas.

It’s turnovers.

Apparently the Celtics haven’t committed too many thus far.

“We haven’t turned the ball over as much as teams usually do the first couple of days,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to learn the system, trying to get everybody familiar with what we do. But we’ve been playing well together. Guys are playing hard. Guys have gotten better, worked on their game.”

Ball-handling will be one of the areas to watch during the preseason as the Celtics look to find a replacement for Evan Turner (Portland) who has been one of the team’s best ball-handlers the past couple of seasons.

The Celtics were middle-of-the-pack last season with 13.5 turnovers per game which ranked 14th in the NBA.

Low turnovers often serve as a common trait among playoff teams. Just last season, eight of the top-nine teams in fewest turnovers committed, were in the playoffs.