WALTHAM, Mass. -- Following the first practice of their NBA careers, Celtics rookies JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore sounded like a couple of enthusiastic kids just home from the first day of school.
“Oh man,” said Moore, “the first practice was definitely a good one and exciting to finally get the nerves out of my system. I’ve been watching the past couple days and just learning and … seeing how the Celtics do it.”
“It was great,” Johnson said. “I learned a lot. It was pretty much just learning the defense. I paid attention to the offense stuff when I was sitting out. But it definitely felt good to be out there on the floor.”
The two Purdue products were drafted in June, Johnson by the New Jersey Nets with the 27th overall pick (before being traded to Boston), and Moore by the Celtics at 55th overall in the second round. Johnson, a 6-foot-10 forward, was named Big Ten Player of the Year and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 20.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in his senior season. The 6-foot-4 Moore, a guard, was an honorable mention Associated Press All-American, and averaged 18.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game.
Moore and Johnson have been present in camp the past few days, but have been unable to practice before their deals were made official Monday.
“It’s been tough on my legs, really -- just from all that standing,” cracked Johnson of all the waiting around. "You get kinda restless. You’re trying to just take in as much as you can. But it’s been tough. Obviously when you see your teammates competing and things like that you definitely just wanna get out there and get your competitive juices flowing. But I’m just happy to be out here today.”
Now that they’re officially Celtics, both rookies stressed the importance of learning as much as possible from the team’s veterans early on and expressed an eagerness to soak up all they can.
“It’s just [about] coming with confidence and paying attention to the guys in front of you,” said Moore. “Like I said, I’ve been watching the past couple days, definitely watching the guards -- Keyon Dooling and [Rajon] Rondo -- how they come off of screens and how they set the tempo of the offense. So it’s definitely been fun coming out here and watching them play.”
“[Communication] is a huge emphasis on this team,” Johnson said. “The veteran guys, they’re the ones that really emphasize communication, and it helps having a guy to look up to like [Kevin Garnett] who’s very vocal out there on the floor. It’s kind of contagious with the other guys.”
During the lockout, Moore got some experience overseas, averaging 14.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 38.5 percent shooting from behind the arc with Benetton Treviso of Italy’s Lega Serie A.
“It definitely helped me a lot,” Moore said of his time in Italy. “The biggest thing I think I learned from being over there was patience, the patience of the game. I sometimes thought, ‘Twenty-four seconds, so okay, you gotta play faster,’ but that’s not true. Actually you slow the game down and you react faster to everything. So that was the biggest thing, just patience.”
Johnson echoed Moore, saying, “I definitely think he is more confident [now]. He came in here, didn’t miss a beat. He was really efficient. They had him running some point and I think he had some experience doing that overseas too, so I think it just did nothing but help him.”
The two Celtics rookies aren’t sure how much they’ll be used this year and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was non-committal, noting, “I don’t know, they’re rookies. They’ve been out here for two hours so far this year.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't mind offering a glowing first-practice evaluation: "JaJuan shot the heck out of the ball today and he runs the floor. E'Twaun was one of the best players in the gym today, forget being a rookie."
Moore and Johnson said that no matter what happens, it’ll be easier going through it together.
“It makes it a lot easier,” Johnson said. “You know, you can go back to the hotel, have someone to talk to about practice, things like that. it definitely makes it easier just to have that familiar face with you.”
Echoed Moore: “Yeah, it’s much easier having a guy that I know. We kinda grew up together in a sense, from high school to the NBA, so it’s definitely going to be great having him around.”