CHICAGO -- Two prevalent themes emerged when draft prospects were quizzed about their interviews with the Boston Celtics at this week's NBA draft combine: Most meetings were brief but cordial and Boston's brain trust often varied its approach while trying to learn more about potential draftees.
Scorers like Michigan's Nik Stauskas, Michigan State's Gary Harris and NC State's T.J. Warren were all sent to a whiteboard to draw up plays that tested their basketball IQs, while bigs like Indiana's Noah Vonleh, Kentucky's Julius Randle and Arizona's Aaron Gordon -- three of the more highly touted players at the combine -- said the conversation often probed their personalities.
The Celtics were wrapping up a third day of interviews on Friday, completing a lengthy slate of private meetings with prospects who could be available with their two first-round picks in next month's draft. Tuesday's draft lottery will determine how high the team's top selection will be, while the Celtics also own No. 17 (via the Brooklyn Nets).
Friday's interviews were set to include Australian phenom Dante Exum and the Oklahoma State duo of Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, the latter of whom headlined Friday's athletic testing by topping the charts for both the standing vertical leap (36 ½ inches) and maximum vertical leap (43 ½ inches) while adding top-10 finishes in the 3/4-court sprint and the shuttle run.
Here's some insight into Boston's interview process provided by eight players who met with the Celtics traveling party of president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, assistant general manager Mike Zarren, director of player personnel Austin Ainge, director of scouting Dave Lewin and assistant coach Walter McCarty:
NIK STAUSKAS (Michigan, SG, 6-6, 12th on Chad Ford's Big board)
"My interview with [the Celtics] was actually very short, but it was all positive. I lived in Boston the last few years of high school [while attending St. Mark's in Southborough, Massachusetts] and Danny Ainge was telling me he actually saw me play a few times in high school and AAU because I played against his son [Cooper]. So he’s seen me for a while. And Brad Stevens is obviously a great coach. He’s also very close to my assistant coach at Michigan, LaVall Jordan -- they were at Butler together. [The Celtics] just had a lot of good things to say about me ... they questioned my defensive ability, that’s kinda been the main thing with every team.
"They asked me to draw up some plays for them on a board, they kinda put me on the spot, but other than that, it was probably my shortest interview. I forget what they asked me, but it was kinda just drawing up my favorite play to get a certain action. I just drew up one of our plays that we used a lot at Michigan." Stauskas said the play ended with him shooting from the perimeter, but pressed on the play, he joked, "I can’t reveal that. I might get a call from [Michigan] coach [John] Beilein."
T.J. WARREN (NC State, SF, 6-8, 28th on big board)
"My meeting with Boston was pretty good. I sat down with Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens and some of their scouts. Overall great meeting, I really enjoyed talking to those guys and looking forward to getting up there for a workout [in early June]. I drew up a play. I could tell they really liked me a lot. I’m very interested in them. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next. I went for an inside screen, hopefully get a switch from a point guard, get the guard to take a screen. It’s a pretty unique play and my sweet spot is around the mid-range area. They thought it was clever."
P.J. HAIRSTON (North Carolina/D-League, SG, 6-5, 16th on big board)
"I met with [Boston on Thursday] night. They were really nice. When we were meeting, they told me their needs and they said they needed a shooter. But my first impression was just how nice and how polite they were. And just how they asked their questions. They were very nice and straightforward. My meeting with Boston wasn’t long because I felt like I answered all their questions fairly and they felt like I was 100 percent honest. I thought the interview went very very well. ... I’m not nervous to talk about the past [and dismissal from North Carolina]. I’m able to sit down and be completely honest with them about what happened."
GARY HARRIS (Michigan State, SG, 6-4, 10th on big board)
"Brad Stevens and I kinda have a previous relationship just because he was at Butler and, me being from Indiana, [we met during] the whole [college] recruiting process. I felt a comfort in the interview and I felt like it went pretty well. ... I remember I thought [Stevens] was a terrific coach, we had a very good relationship. But the whole Butler situation, being so close to home, I was kinda looking to step away a little bit, grow a little bit. You don’t know what they are going to ask in those interviews, so the nervousness you have, but you are also excited to get that opportunity. When you go in there, you just kinda relax when you see somebody you already know. They told me to draw up a few plays, some of my favorite plays from Michigan State."
ZACH LAVINE (UCLA, PG, 6-5, 14th on big board)
"I met with Boston earlier. Just getting to know each other; first time meeting. It was a lot of fun. They didn’t ask any unusual questions. It was just getting to know me. [Teams often ask Lavine] 'Tell us your story.' I just want to go out there and show them I’m a competitor, a very hard worker. Show them my skill set and that I’m a good person, a genuine person."
JULIUS RANDLE (Kentucky, PF, 6-9, 5th on big board)
"[The interview with Boston] went well, just getting to know those guys, their coach, and it just went well. The Celtics have a lot of tradition, and it was just an honor to be talking to those guys. A lot of teams are just trying to get to know me as a person. They’ve heard a lot of good things, as far as my character and things like that, and they obviously know me as a player and what I have the potential to be. They just want to get to know me and my family as well. The Celtics are a young team, [Stevens] is able to relate to young guys and he kinda knows the adjustment, because he’s making that adjustment as well, making that jump from college to pros."
NOAH VONLEH (Indiana, PF, 6-10, 7th on big board)
"[The Boston interview] went pretty well. It was real quick and brief. They told me they want me to come in for a workout and they’ve been watching me since high school. I’ve been watching Boston growing up [in Haverhill]. I’ve lived in Boston my whole life. It would be great to play back at home in a great organization. They’re not a championship team right now, but they’ve had a lot of championships raised over the years. [Stevens is] a great coach. I watched him when he was at Butler. Now he’s at the Celtics. I think I would fit pretty well into his system."
AARON GORDON (Arizona, PF, 6-8, 6th on big board)
"The [Celtics] just asked about my personal life. They pushed away basketball, then brought basketball back and asked questions about just certain aspects of my life. I got a really good vibe from the Celtics. They seem really family-oriented. They seemed like really good people that have my best interest at heart. I got a good vibe from them. We talked about [Gordon's position]. We just went over my strengths and my weaknesses. We talked about what I can bring to the game every single night. Nothing too unusual [for questions]. It was pretty straight forward. It’s not like it was uptight. It was very light. It was relaxed. People were smiling. I got one question [from another team] about how many pennies were in $1 million dollars. I got it right in 22 seconds. They timed me. I made a joke to stall it so I could think a little bit more and I came back and answered it correctly."