WALTHAM, Mass. -- It’s been playfully dubbed the Boston Marathon. At the end of every pre-draft workout, the Boston Celtics line up the invited prospects along the baseline and have them sprint the length of the 94-foot court as many times as possible in a three-minute span.
It’s been a staple of Danny Ainge’s workouts since his time as head coach with the Phoenix Suns and it’s become well known among draft prospects, who are often tipped off in advance by their agents or fellow draft hopefuls.
“It’s known around the league, they all talk about it, that Boston comes in and [some] call it a Boston Marathon,” said Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge, who spends much of his time organizing these pre-draft workouts. “It’s only three minutes of running. It’s grown to be a bigger thing than it actually is, but we kinda like it.”
Northeastern’s Jonathan Lee set the current Boston record last June when he ran 29 ½ court lengths, edging former Husky Matt Janning (29). Chicago’s Joakim Noah holds the record for big men at 27 ½ lengths, while second-round pick Colton Iverson put up 27 last year (which tells you a little something about why the Celtics bought a second-round pick from Indiana to select him).
Delonte West, who was selected 24th by the Celtics in the 2004 draft, actually became obsessed with topping the record during his time in Boston. He would go through the drill often and, after arriving to the practice facility one day, successfully ran 30 lengths. Those in the Celtics front office put an asterisk on the accomplishment, however, because West accomplished the feat at the start of a workout and not at the end of a session when he would have been more fatigued.
Over the past two days, the Celtics have brought in 18 players, and if you ask them about how Boston’s workout differs from others they’ve experienced so far, the answer is almost universal: This is the toughest one of all -- because of the sprint.
“This is the first time that I did the three-minute drill at the end [of a workout],” said Providence’s Bryce Cotton. “I guess that was a nice little wrap-up after a pretty good conditioning workout.”
Cotton put up 28 lengths, an eyebrow-raising number for a draft hopeful. The Celtics don’t put a tremendous amount of stock in the number posted. In fact, the drill often reflects more on the player mentally than physically.
“First of all, it shows conditioning level, obviously,” said Austin Ainge. “But also your heart, your grit, your toughness. At the end of a workout, how hard are you going to push yourself?”
Setting the team record didn’t help Lee, who went undrafted and spent last season playing professionally in Austria. But this year’s draft hopefuls marvel when told of his feat.
One NBA agent said he tells all his clients about the run in advance of the draft, but most are already aware. “Almost all players hear about the ‘Celtic run’ from other players who have done it in the past,” the agent noted.
Some other teams, including Miami and Phoenix, are known to mix in some similarly challenging runs, but, like its namesake, the Boston Marathon remains maybe the most noteworthy distance event.
Alas, knowing in advance about the run doesn’t make it any easier for draft hopefuls, especially when that call comes to line up on the baseline at the end of a 60- or 90-minute workout.
“I was told it would happen, the three-minute drill, it’s not a problem to me,” said Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels, who put up a respectable 26 lengths during Tuesday’s small forward workout. “I feel like conditioning is a big part of playing in the league. Coming out here and doing the three-minute wouldn’t hurt at all.”
Maybe not someone like McDaniels, but some players go to great lengths to avoid the trek.
“Some of the guys, we can see, they come in and they ask you about it three or four times. ‘When is it?’ ” explained Austin Ainge. “Then they start faking hamstring injuries and things. It’s just another piece of information that we like to see.”