Passion, skill drive Celts draftees Smart, Young
WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) Marcus Smart wasn’t born when his half brother played in a Texas high school basketball game despite having cancer.
Yet Todd Westbrook’s perseverance through his recurring bouts with the disease is an inspiration to the Boston Celtics new guard. Like the time Westbrook surprised his coach by leaving the hospital where he was being treated for a tumor behind his left eye.
”He said, `I’m coming to play,’ and his left eye was shut closed,” Smart said Monday. ”He played. He scored 30 that night, too.”
Their mother Camellia was at the game.
”It was beautiful,” she said. ”They called him `The Comeback Kid.”’
Westbrook died in 2004 at the age of 33. Smart was only 9.
Now Smart is a 20-year-old Celtic with a tattoo of a basketball with his half brother’s uniform number ”3” on it in Westbrook’s honor.
”He was the oldest,” Smart said. ”He started off playing basketball. He taught my other two brothers. He taught me. … Now I’m here living out his legacy.”
Smart developed into one of the nation’s best players. After his sophomore year at Oklahoma State, the physical guard and tough defender was chosen by the Celtics with the sixth pick in Thursday’s NBA draft.
The team formally introduced him and its 17th pick of the first round, swingman James Young, a productive scorer who helped lead Kentucky to the NCAA championship game last season as a freshman.
”If you’re going to be a good team, you have to have guys that have the passion and the fire and guys that have the skill,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said, ”and I think both of our new young kids have both.”
The Celtics, though, have a long way to go to become a good team.
Last season’s 25-57 record was the third worst in the history of a franchise that has won 17 NBA championships.
Young already has played for a school with a history of success – 16 Final Four appearances and eight titles.
”There’s a great tradition at Kentucky and there’s a great tradition here,” he said.
The 18-year-old Young was second on Kentucky with 14.3 points per game and led the team with 20 points and seven rebounds in its loss to Connecticut in the championship game.
Smart averaged 18 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists last season.
Both are young with plenty of room to improve, particularly as shooters. Numerous players have entered the NBA draft early in recent years, but facing so many young players won’t necessarily speed their development.
”I don’t think it’s an easy transition anyway,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. ”I would say, for the most part, that you don’t have an advantage, necessarily, coming in younger now. The most accomplished players in the league are still the most accomplished players.”
Smart and Young both said Stevens could have special insight into the transition from college to the NBA because he took his first pro job last summer with the Celtics. In 2010 and 2011, he coached Butler to the NCAA championship games before losing.
”I would say that if they feel that way, that’s good,” Stevens said, ”but I don’t know if there’s an advantage or not. Like any other time when you’re coaching somebody, it’s how much effort you put into them and how much effort you put into your team.”
Smart joins a backcourt that includes star point guard Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley, an outstanding defender. Ainge said all three could be on the court at the same time.
The Celtics extended a qualifying offer on Monday to Bradley, a restricted free agent, giving them the right to match any offer he receives.
”Avery can be a very key player in us winning the championship,” Ainge said. ”He does things that other players can’t do and his shooting continues to improve.”
Smart needs to work on that, too.
His half brother remains an inspiration.
”Everybody told him there was no way he was going to come back and play, but he still came back and played even though he had a tumor behind his left eye,” Smart said. ”He checked himself out of the hospital and played the game and all the odds were against him. He kept fighting. That’s my motivation. The odds are against me, but I keep fighting.
”And I never give up because he never gave up.”