WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens believed that his team had landed two very poised players in the 2014 NBA Draft, and watching Marcus Smart and James Young field questions from the assembled media on Monday afternoon at the team's training facility only seemed to confirm it.
StoryAfter all, it was just about a year ago that Stevens sat in the same seat while being introduced as the team's new head coach, and everything was spinning for a coach renowned for his composed demeanor.
"I was coming off no sleep and limited meals for about 36 hours the last time I was up there and then you’re thrust in front of this and you’re supposed to talk like you know what you’re doing, other than you know the history and tradition," said Stevens. "I thought those guys did a great job for 18- and 20-year-olds sitting up there being asked all those questions. Because it is brand new, and it’s brand new to them. And as much as you think you know what you’re getting into, you don’t."
Wearing white dress shirts and matching Celtics hats, the rookies held up their new jerseys -- No. 36 for Smart; No. 13 for Young -- smiled for the cameras, and offered all the right answers while being grilled about the tradition and responsibility that comes with putting on those jerseys. To their right, Stevens, hints of a summer tan sprouting from his green short-sleeve polo, leaned back and smiled while listening to his new players answer with poise and confidence.
"I said it [on the podium], they get it," Stevens said after the introductions. "I think it’s also a tribute to the organization. A tribute to [Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge] and the players that have played before here, and the way it’s run and our ownership. Even though you’re coming off an individual high of being drafted, there’s a responsibility that comes with being part of the Boston Celtics."
Smart and Young went through the media obstacle course on Monday and were quickly whisked away for a community event at a local elementary school. Their families were along for Monday's ride and while Smart's mother, wearing a homemade Celtics T-shirt with "SMART" on the back, beamed from a perch high above the court, Young's family gleefully snapped pictures with their iPhones while watching him navigate a labyrinth of microphones.
By Tuesday morning, and the start of two-a-day workouts for the Celtics' summer squad, Smart and Young will be just two new faces trying to assert their spots and carve out roles on Boston's 2014-15 roster. As comfortable as they looked at the podium on Monday, both players are eager to get back to the comfort zone that is the basketball court.
"All the draftees have been working really, really hard to get to this situation and this spot," said Smart. "It’s a great opportunity. I’m blessed to be here. I know I am. But, definitely, we’re ready to get back on the court and get back to action."
Smart is a reporter's dream and talks with a maturity well beyond his age (he turned 20 in March). When asked what excites him most about being drafted by the Celtics, he offered, "Just the tradition. You can tell that the fans really embrace the sports and their athletes and the athletes return the favor. I’m just looking forward to come in, compete, and do anything I can to help this team win."
That's a sentiment echoed by Young, whose Kentucky team couldn't hold off UConn in the national title game in April.
"I want to come out here and put a banner up there, that’s my motivation," said Young, motioning toward a blank banner at the far end of a gymnasium that's walls are adorned with 17 championship mementos. "When I come in here and I look at that banner up there, it’s something for me to want to put history up there."
Much of the conversation surrounding Smart and Young on this day centered about their competitiveness and toughness.
"Every team needs that," said Ainge. "If you’re going to be a good team, you gotta have guys that have the passion and the fire and the guys that have the skills. And I think that both of our new young kids have both. I think they have a passion about the game and I think they have some skill that they can develop and get even better."
Smart and Young were chance roommates at the NBA Draft combine in Chicago. They didn't know their paths would cross again, but they're excited about the similarities in their styles and a desire to prove they belong.
"Me and James, we’re coming in, we’re two new guys to a new system that we’re not used to playing," said Smart. "I just want to go in and me and him can gel with our teammates [at summer league] and keep improving as individuals."
If they handle the transition to the NBA as smoothly as they handled their introductory press conferences, they should be just fine.