Notes: The value of the Diesel

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Notes: The value of the Diesel

By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- This summer, former teammates Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas left Cleveland and went in different directions. Shaq went north to Boston, Ilgauskas flew south to Miami.

Even though the big men are on rivaled teams now, Ilgauskas enjoys the camaraderie he shared with O'Neal last season on the Cavaliers.

"He was great to me, for us. He really was," Ilgauskas told CSNNE.com before the Celtics played the Heat. "He came in every day, practiced. Me and him, we always had a good relationship. I enjoyed having him on the team. It was fun. He was good for me."

After 13 years in the NBA, Ilgauskas has never played with -- or against -- anyone like O'Neal. He's happy to have had the opportunity to share the paint with him.

"He's a freak of nature," he laughed. "You never see somebody of such size do the things that he does. He's a unique player, always has been. He's special."

In the box score, Shaquille O'Neal posted 9 points and 7 rebounds in 18 minutes. His teammates believe his contributions went beyond the stat sheet.

"He's huge for us," said Paul Pierce. "I think the numbers don't really tell you how big he is for us because I remember at one point in the game going to Ray Allen, I think it was the third quarter, we looked up and we were six minutes and in the bonus because Shaq drew about four or five fouls. We're not a team that usually gets in the bonus that early, and that's the presence that he brings. Hopefully it's going to be like that all year long, when you get into a penalty and every foul from then on you go to the free-throw line. Just having him, he's a great finisher . . . We want to take advantage of that night in and night out. I think that's where our greatest strength is, on the inside, and I'm glad to have him on our team."

Kevin Garnett simply echoed, "What he said."

As for O'Neal, he was just glad to help the Celtics come out with a W.'

"We just wanted to come out and win our first game," he said. "That's what we did. We let you all worry about the hoopla and all of that. We know that we wanted to come play a solid game and we knew if did what we wanted to do, then we could possibly get a win. Now that this game is over, we've got a game tomorrow against the Cavaliers in Cleveland and we just want to be 2-0."

Ever since he was traded to the New York Knicks last February, Eddie House has made it a point to stop by the Celtics locker room when he comes to Boston.

Make no mistake, he is on board with the Miami Heat, but that doesn't stop him from giving credit to his former team.

"I thought it was going to be a hard game," he said of Opening Night against the Celtics. "A great team over there -- obviously -- with their track record. In '08 when they came together, they've been together a long time. It shows. They are in midseason form, everything clicking. They can pretty much run their offense with their eyes closed. They are a great team, and they played great tonight."

House scored eight points off the bench for the Heat, including a pair of three-pointers. He got open looks like he did with the Celtics, but he is not into drawing comparisons between his former and current teams. Instead, he's focused on his future with the Heat.

"I think it's just two different dynamics, the way these guys play and the way that team is put together," he said. "But I'm not comparing this team to that team because we could talk until we're blue in the face about that stuff. That's not what I'm here to do. I'm here to talk about the Miami Heat and not the Celtics. We're trying to do something special here and we're trying to move forward."

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comjcamerato

Blakely: Why Celtics should roll the dice on Bender

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Blakely: Why Celtics should roll the dice on Bender

A. Sherrod Blakely joins SNC to give his NBA Draft preview, and explains why he thinks the Boston Celtics should roll the dice on 18-year-old Dragan Bender if they get the chance.

Could early Thunder exit help Celtics chances for Durant?

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Could early Thunder exit help Celtics chances for Durant?

A. Sherrod Blakely joins SportsNet Central to give his opinion on whether an early Thunder exit from the NBA Playoffs would help the Boston Celtics chances to land Kevin Durant in the offseason.

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.”