When Chris Copeland sees Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga on Monday night at the Garden, he will have a huge smile and hug awaiting.
Without Larranaga's help in 2011 -- he was coaching the Knicks' D-League team, the Erie BayHawks, at the time -- Copeland would not be in a blue and orange uniform.
"It was Jay Larranaga who really pushed the button," Copeland's agent, John Spencer, told ESPNNewYork.com.
Leading up to that point, Copeland had already played one season in the D-League (2006-07) and then four years for foreign club teams in Spain, Holland, Germany and Belgium. The long journey began when he wasn't invited to any pre-draft camps in 2006 when he graduated Colorado, and then he broke his foot that fall, delaying the process even more.
One of Copeland's biggest roadblocks was that he played power forward in college, and teams didn't see him as a small forward -- even after he shot around 46 percent from 3-point range with the Fort Wayne Flyers in 2006-07. But the D-League favors guard play, and Copeland was overlooked. While Cleveland, Memphis and San Antonio were interested, they didn't bite.
So for four years overseas, while Spencer campaigned for his client sometimes six days a week, Copeland had to wait for the call to return stateside. Spencer said that even though his client was working to improve his scoring efficiency, he was the same player.
"Every year, 2007, 2008, whatever, it was all the same," he said. "Every year was the same."
Then in the fall of 2011, Larranaga saw something more in Copeland, who was starting to play his best basketball internationally -- and his team was winning. That season playing for Okapi Aalstar in Belgium, he finished as the second-leading scorer in the country.
"I had developed a good relationship with Jay Larranaga and we were talking about some D-League clients," Spencer said. "He was like, 'Hey, is Chris Copeland your kid?' I'm like, 'Yeah.' And he's like, 'I've been telling Allan Houston about Chris for the longest time. They should get him in here, because I think he can make the league.'
"Other guys, like Donnie Walsh, were on about him, but Larranaga was really aggressive with Allan trying to get Chris to come back to play in the states by getting him an NBA opportunity -- having him in the play in the D-League, and if there was something that come up, they could call Chris up."
Larranaga's constant prodding with Houston convinced the Knicks' assistant GM to have the team's director of European scouting, Kevin Wilson, take a look at Copeland live in Belgium. Then in June after his season, Houston flew the forward to New York for a workout.
Afterward, "they had seen enough of him to make a decision to try to keep him," Spencer said. "Allan would say, 'When you talk to him and try to give him advice, he's receptive.'"
Then in July, Copeland got his first real taste of NBA action -- as a member of the Knicks' summer league team in Las Vegas. The Knicks wanted to add frontcourt depth and they saw some potential in Copeland.
While Larranaga wasn't available for an interview, he told ESPNNewYork.com he's "really happy for the success Chris is having." Copeland also gives major props to Spencer for first connecting with Larranaga.
"He's a great dude," the rookie said. "I wouldn't be here today without the work John has done. He played overseas and knows the business."
While it was a long journey indeed, the process has definitely fueled Copeland.
"He's got a permanent chip of his shoulder," Spencer said.
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