Iverson: Roster spot is 'mine for the taking'

WALTHAM, Mass. -- As the Boston Celtics' summer squad wrapped up an early session on Tuesday, young bigs Kelly Olynyk and Colton Iverson were working together at one end of the floor.

Chris Forsberg/ESPN Boston

Colton Iverson is hoping to make the most of his opportunity this summer.The two players comprised Boston's 2013 draft class, but their seasons couldn't have been much more different. Olynyk, the 13th overall pick, appeared in 70 games for Boston, showed steady progress, and landed on the NBA's All-Rookie second team. Iverson, the 53rd overall pick, got stashed overseas in Turkey and developed his raw game out of the spotlight while hoping to compete for a roster spot this summer.

Iverson is regarded as a chiseled bruiser and, working out together recently, Olynyk has been reminded of that (probably the hard way with sharp elbows). Asked what he's seen from 7-foot Iverson this summer, Olynyk deadpanned, "He didn’t get any smaller."

That was a sentiment echoed by assistant coach Jay Larranaga, who noted after Tuesday's morning session, "[Iverson] is what he is: He is a big, strong defensive presence, rebounder. And that has not changed."

Iverson, who turned 25 on Saturday, has spent recent weeks in Boston working out with the team's other veterans. He had a nice summer session last year, but Boston's overcrowded roster forced him overseas. Iverson knows there's a better chance to cement his spot this time around.

"I knew when I got drafted last year that there was a pretty good chance I would have to go overseas," Iverson said. "I was here working, trying to impress and do everything possible to help the team. I knew there was a slim chance just with the roster. I think this year there is a little bit better chance and I know the opportunity is all mine for the taking. I think if I just come out and show what I can do in summer league and the next couple days here, I will really help myself. So I'm coming along with a different mindset that it’s mine for the taking and it’s all up to me."

Iverson joked about the culture shock overseas ("I’m trying to go to a restaurant and order a chicken sandwich, I’m getting lamb or something") and has admitted it was difficult to be out of communication with friends and family during an extended stay in a foreign land. But he also was emphatic that the experience was good for him and hopes it positions him well this summer.

He's earned quality early reviews back stateside.

Said Olynyk: "I think he’s been working hard over there. He’s playing good. He’s a big strong guy who’s going to rebound and cause havoc on the defensive end and hopefully he can stretch out and knock down a mid-range jumper now."

Added Larranaga: "I thought Colton had a really good summer last year. Everyone really took to him. He plays with incredible intensity and physicality and he continues to show that. I’m excited to have him for another summer and help him continue to develop."

With the potential that Boston will remain in rebuilding mode, and with the team currently thin on pure size and rim protection, the door is open for Iverson. He's tried to hone his footwork, work on his shooting touch and improve as a pick-and-roll defender.

But his meal ticket is his toughness and tenacity, even if he couldn't put it on full display overseas.

"I definitely had to adjust my game when I got over there. I was averaging 4 ½ fouls per game probably for the first two months," Iverson said. "I had to learn how to play without fouling, but I still know how to play. It was physical there and that’s my style of play. That will never change. I’m still going to be somebody that’s a pest to play against. I kind of take pride in the way I play -- I’m physical and a menace."

Asked about a potential NBA player he'd like to model his own game after, Iverson pointed to a recent Defensive Player of the Year.

"There’s a lot of bangers," Iverson said. "Marc Gasol ... he’s not really known as a banger because he’s got good touch and everything, but I think he’s a very physical presence in the lane that I can become."

[More on Iverson: Second chance at a first impression]