Monday, June 27, 2011
Tight-knit pair will feel at home
By Chris Forsberg
BRIGHTON, Mass. -- As Kevin Garnett is fond of reminding us, Boston is a brotherhood. So maybe it was somewhat appropriate that the Celtics held this year's rookie introductions at a local elementary school, introducing a pair of fresh faces with a brotherhood of their own to the fabric of the community.
JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore are more than just former college teammates at Purdue University. The pair grew up 160 miles apart, and that's about as far as they've strayed from one another. The two became acquainted as rivals on the Indiana high school hoops scene, then joined forces when they realized they were being recruited by the same schools.
Johnson and Moore decided together to attend Purdue, where they roomed together their first two years, then influenced each other's decision to return to West Lafayette for a senior season after both had flirted with the idea of entering the draft early.
The two looked at ease together Monday as Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and managing partner Steve Pagliuca introduced them at a community event in which the Celtics and their Shamrock Foundation donated a mobile computer lab to the Edison K-8 School.
That first NBA news conference can be daunting as draft picks put on their new team caps, hold up their jerseys and smile awkwardly next to their new assigned teammates. But Johnson and Moore were seamless, finishing answers for each other and taking away a lot of those first-day jitters.
"I was just really excited," Johnson, the No. 27 pick in the draft, said of his emotions when learning that the Celtics had tabbed Moore with their second-round pick (55th overall). "Just to have somebody that you're familiar with, that you're comfortable with, to go through this process with you, makes things a lot easier."
Finished Moore: "Same here. It was definitely exciting for both of us to get chosen by the same team. [We] definitely didn't know this was going to happen."
A little more than a year ago, the two barely knew whether they would be in the same draft. Johnson gave serious consideration to staying in the 2010 draft before -- aided by some friendly guidance from his family and Moore -- he elected to return to Purdue for his senior season.
The two didn't just improve their draft stock by improving their games in that final season but also grew as people and earned their degrees in organizational leadership and supervision. So, even as they crisscrossed the country on separate pre-draft workouts leading up to Thursday's big day, the two kept in constant contact, simply hoping both would be in the NBA next season.
"We pretty much talked a couple times per week," Johnson said. "I understood he was going through the same thing I was going through -- busy traveling and all that -- but we usually tried to send a text here and there and ask how different workouts went. But it's just crazy how we ended up on the same team."
Ainge suggested last week that he didn't even realize the coincidence until after the Celtics had turned in their pick. Coach Doc Rivers was on the phone with Johnson when the Moore selection was broadcast on TV, sending Johnson into renewed -- and possibly more frenzied -- celebration.
"I think that made him more excited than the fact that he was drafted," Ainge joked. "That was just a pure coincidence."
Coincidence or not, brotherhood is truly paramount in Boston. Throughout the Big Three era -- one built around the "one for all" mantra that is Ubuntu -- the Celtics have put an incredible premium on chemistry and might have learned the hard way last season with the Kendrick Perkins trade the effect disrupting that rapport can have.
That deal notwithstanding, Boston's focus the past two offseasons has been on keeping its core together. Even when a new piece is added, the team goes to incredible lengths to make sure there's a comfort level for the new addition.
When Lawrence Frank was hired as Boston's top assistant last season, Rivers hired Frank's former assistant in New Jersey, Roy Rogers, as big-man coach to help his addition to the coaching staff. Rivers said it was similar to how he previously brought on assistant coaches Tom Thibodeau and Mike Longabardi at the same time in 2007 after the two worked together in Houston.
This past season, the Celtics needed a backup swingman and, although Sasha Pavlovic might have been the best available option, it didn't hurt that he had ties with Nenad Krstic (acquired in the Perkins trade) and their friendship made it easier for both sides to acclimate to a new locker room.
Two years ago, the Celtics brought in Tyronn Lue as director of basketball development. Garnett and Lue are as close as -- you guessed it -- brothers.
Now, it's Johnson and Moore. As Ainge stressed, he simply picked the two best available players. The fact that each can ease the other's transition to the NBA game is only a bonus. They've seen each other develop to this point and can push each other at the next level.
"JaJuan's definitely grown a whole lot," Moore said. "Confidencewise, and on the court and off the court, being more vocal and being more of a leader. He definitely grew a whole lot, and I was glad last year when he decided to come back to school.
He definitely came back better than ever senior year, and he's a great player and a great teammate."
Said Johnson: "E'Twaun's definitely been the one, since day one, especially at Purdue, he's held it down for our team. It seems like, time in and time out, he's the one to hit those big shots for us and really led us on the court. Him playing at a high level since our freshman year helped me really bring my game up to where his was."
Across the second-floor classroom where the introduction was being held, behind the wall of cameras and reporters, the parents of Johnson and Moore stood beaming, particularly Johnson's mother, Rhonda Curlin.
" I think [being together] will help a lot because they were roommates both freshman and sophomore year in college," said Curlin, who wore No. 12 as a high school hoopster and served as inspiration for Johnson to choose that number to start his NBA career. "Even making the decision to go to Purdue [the pair did it together].
So, I just think the brotherhood, at least you know you have something there. I think it's huge."
So do the Celtics.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.
|JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore made their college decision together (Purdue), decided to stay in school together and now are NBA teammates.|