These students have taken the same class
Perkins, Jefferson teaching high school star Green the ropes
LAS VEGAS -- The Celtics started summer league play last night at Cox Pavilion on the campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, competing with a roster well suited for the rah-rah of a college gym. For three straight years, the Celtics have added a high school player on draft night and made summer league play part of the NBA initiation process.
This week and next, top pick Gerald Green (No. 18 overall) will experience professional competition for the first time. He will learn that eye-popping scoring and rebounding averages at Gulf Shores Academy in Houston don't translate easily to the NBA, though, judging from his performance last night, show-stopping dunks do.
But as he attempts to earn a handful of minutes and a foothold among older players, Green has the distinct advantage of having 20-year-olds Kendrick Perkins and Al Jefferson as teammates. Perkins and Jefferson made the transition from high school to the NBA with varying success. They know the challenges Green will face, on and off the court, in his rookie season. The three have become fast friends.
Before the 18-year-old Green played his first game in a Boston uniform, he joined Perkins and Jefferson for a roundtable discussion about the transition. The players were unfailingly candid on a wide range of subjects, including competition from veteran teammates, snow in New England, and pride in the Southern roots they share. Given the new 19-year-old age limit, it could be the last time an NBA team features three players who bypassed college. If Green, Perkins, and Jefferson develop the way director of basketball operations Danny Ainge expects, part of the NBA past will become the foundation for the Celtics' future.
Kendrick and Al, if you had one piece of advice for Gerald, what would it be?
Jefferson: I would say, be smart.
Green: I'll say the best advice they gave me before, both of them, and that was, 'Stay positive.' That can go a long way. If you stay positive on the court, you're going to be good. If you stay positive off the court, you're going to be OK.
Perkins: I ain't going to lie. I've got a rule. I don't let nothing stress me out. Nothing. So, I don't have no worries in my life. I just learned that because that first year was so hard. It was enough stress for me. I was like, 'Man, I can't be killing myself.'
Jefferson: And another thing that stresses you out is family and friends.
Jefferson: I like to be around my family, like my grandmother, my mother, my sisters, in the offseason. It's the other family. You're going to get more cousins. You're going to get all these girlfriends. You're going to just get a lot of people trying to get on your plate to feed them. That's the thing that stressed me out, a lot of friends calling, wanting favors, wanting you to invest your money into a studio, wanting you to take a big gamble on a lot of things in life. That can really get on your nerves.
Perkins: Don't start nothing. If you start giving people money, then it's over. If you say no the first time, then it's cool.
Jefferson: We all make good money, but we make that money.
Green: It's a lot to take in. There's a lot of stuff that's coming at me. I've got stuff that's on the court like the plays, and stuff off the court I've got to worry about. By these guys telling me this and that, it can help me out. I'm glad I've got people like Perk and Al beside me. I don't know how I would be if they weren't here.
So, advice from Kendrick and Al has already helped?
Green: Me and Kendrick were talking on the bus. I was saying that I was struggling. I didn't think I was doing too good. And he was telling me, 'You're doing all right.' In practice, Big Al will tell you, 'I know it's hard. I was the same way.'
Jefferson: I try to get him to understand when [coach] Doc [Rivers] is on him, when he keeps saying your name, letting you know when you make a mistake, that's good for you. I told him, 'Don't feel like Doc is getting on you too much.' My name stayed in his mouth last year. Now, too.
Green: It makes a big difference because they've been through it. They know the ups and downs. They know how to work around the situation, how you handle this problem, how you handle that problem.
Perkins: I think it was a little different for me coming in. When I came in, we just had a team full of veterans. So, I didn't really have anybody besides Marcus [Banks] my age. So, if somebody was going to the club and it was 21 and up, I couldn't get in. I was stuck out. I didn't really have anything to do. It was hard [on and off the court]. When I got there to the first summer league practice, I remember [Antoine Walker] coming in there and it seemed like he was at me from the jump. When training camp came, it seemed like everybody was at me. Mark Blount was fighting for a contract. Everybody was just going at me. There really wasn't any teaching, like, 'Kendrick you've got to go here.' There were only a few times [when I was overwhelmed], but I wouldn't change anything I've done. It made me tougher.
Jefferson: You couldn't pay me $10 million to redo my first year. I'm glad it's over with. The only reason I'm talking about it right now is because you want me to. But I don't never, ever in my life want to go back to my first year, not to scare you or nothing.
Green: Well, you're doing a good job of it. I mean, I understand what you're saying. You got to learn and you don't want to start all over from what you've already built up.
Jefferson: And the coaches are going to be just really, really on you. I'm not trying to scare you, but it's going to be hard. It was even hard for LeBron James. See, when I came here, right from the jump, Perk took me under his wing and he did it in a very strong way. I'll never forget it. I'll tell the story. In the first summer league practice, we're doing some drills and I let Ernest Brown get in front of me [in line] and Perk went off on me, not knowing me, first day meeting me. He was like, 'Man, you don't let anybody get in front of you.' Not in those words, but he took me under his wing.
Perkins: I was like, 'A quiet mouth doesn't get fed.' It's hard because you're coming in and you're playing with Paul [Pierce], Ricky [Davis], and 'Toine, those are All-Stars. You're really trying not to mess up because . . .
Jefferson: The minutes you do get, you're trying to keep them.
Perkins: You see, Gerald is going through the same situation that I was going through with Justin [Reed]. He just got a contract [extension], but he's a free agent next year. Tony [Allen] is fighting for his minutes. They're not going to let him do whatever. You can tell they're going at him.
Jefferson: It's going to help him. It's going to make him want to play harder.
Green: I'm a competitor.
Perkins: He's from Texas.
Green: I've got to learn how to come back at them. On the court, it's all business.
Perkins: If he can handle Justin Reed on defense, then he can handle Paul [Pierce] on defense because Justin is way better than Paul. Justin will lock Paul up in practice. If you can take Justin and Tony's defense, then you ain't going to have no problem with Paul.
Jefferson: Or nobody else in the league.
Perkins: Justin is the only person I saw lock up Kobe [Bryant].
Jefferson: Just lock him up.
What about moving away from home for the first time, from the South to Boston?
Jefferson: (Sigh) It was just like starting all over. Oh, man. When was the first snowstorm? November. Man, that was horrible. I had bought me a car and the car got stuck in the snow.
Perkins: The snow wasn't bad, it's just the people. Down South, people are more friendly. Up north, they're honking horns and whatever.
Jefferson: The drivers are crazy.
Perkins: You don't have the same restaurants. The food is different. In Beaumont [Texas], clam chowder isn't popular down there. You ask somebody to eat clam chowder down there and it's like a sin. For real . . . To be honest, I'm still not used to it. The only thing that makes the season go by faster and makes it that much more fun is being around these guys. I'm not an East Coast person. I'm used to walking outside and you may have a few barbecues.
Jefferson: And you stop by and they give you a plate and treat you like you're kin to them.
Green: I'm kind of ready to get on my own. I've been at home all my life. Every time I go somewhere, either my dad is with me or my mom is with me. I'm ready to experience life on my own. I know I'm going to have to get adjusted to that snow because when it snowed only like half an inch in Houston, it was tough. Now, they're saying it's going to be like feet.
Jefferson: We're talking like 33 inches.
Green: I'll have to get adjusted to driving in the snow. I'll probably be scared driving.
Perkins: Oh, you'll slide.
Jefferson: In the wintertime, you know you can't go as fast. In the morning time, you've got to be careful when you get up and you've got to leave a lot earlier. Normally, on game day, we have to be at the gym [the TD Banknorth Garden] at 5 and we'll leave at like 4:30. On a snow day, you might have to leave by like 3:45 to make sure you get there on time.
Perkins: When I hear [Gerald] talk about getting out on your own, I think he doesn't know what he's in for. It's cool, but I'm used to my grandmother having my clothes washed for me. I've got to do too much.
Jefferson: I'm rolling with [Gerald]. You see, I was in a family with three sisters, my mother, my grandmother, and my brother. So, really it was a house full of women.
Perkins: My grandmother, she was just around the house washing clothes, cleaning up. But man, now it's different. You'll see.
Green: I'm ready to get out on my own, but Perk does make a point. I ain't going to want to wash those clothes. I don't like to cook.
Jefferson: You've got to get somebody to come up. You got a brother?
Green: I've got an older sister, but she's married.
Almost on cue, team security director Phil Lynch and equipment manager John Connor walk into the room and ask for the players' dirty practice gear. Jefferson has turned his in, but Perkins and Green sit in sweaty shirts, shorts, and socks. They seem genuinely upset their practice clothes will not be washed before the Celtics ' evening workout. Jefferson shouts out, ''Let them hand wash it." Perkins and Green grumble a little , then return to the conversation.
Entering the NBA as teenagers, how difficult is it to find a group of guys you can hang out with and trust?
Jefferson: It's just going to be us. When they called his [Gerald's] name with the 18th pick, it was like, 'OK, now I've got a little brother.'
Perkins: Listen to me, this is my draft pick really because I'm the one that told Danny to draft this dude. Ask Danny if you think I'm lying. Ask Danny what he asked me about Gerald Green.
Jefferson: Perk stood up and yelled when [Gerald] was drafted. You're happy because he's from Texas.
Moments later, Ainge walks by and jokes, ''Oh, this is bad news." Perkins takes the opportunity to set the record straight about Green.
Perkins: Tell them [Gerald] was my draft pick.
Ainge: That would have been nice to know before the draft. I did sense some enthusiasm after the pick was made.
Perkins: Hold on. Hold on. Do I have to go all the way back to the time I walked into your office and you said, 'What y'all think of Gerald Green?' Do you remember that?
Perkins: Do you remember me saying, 'That's my guy?'
Ainge: Yeah, I do remember that.
Ainge: But everybody says, 'This is my guy.' You've got like 100 'my guys.' What I think is really happening here is he's trying to get Gerald thinking he owes Perk something, so he will throw him the ball inside.
Jefferson: That's smart.
Ainge leaves and the conversation segues to the reason Green, Perkins, and Jefferson decided to skip college. All three recognized they were very smart when it came to basketball. In the end, the choice was easy to make.
Jefferson: I wasn't a school person. I could have gone to college, but there was that opportunity [in the NBA] at that moment.
Green: It all came down to what I actually wanted to do. Going to the NBA was always a dream of mine.
Jefferson: I look at it like this, you go to college, you get your degree, you get a good job, and you make a lot of money. If you can make a lot of money doing something you love without going to college, I feel like that's an easy decision.
Perkins: This is how I look at it. You go to college to get a job. If you're satisfied with your job, why go to college?
Green: People told me, if you're trying to get a basketball scholarship to go to college, what are you going to try to do when you go to college? You're going to try to go to the NBA. Everybody who plays in college wants to go to the NBA. Everybody. Tomorrow is not promised. I could have gone to college and messed up my whole career with anything, distractions, and I never would have made it to the NBA.
Perkins: College can help you and it can hurt you.
Green: Yup, true.
Perkins: I don't think that [19-year-old age limit] rule that they made, raising it one year, didn't make sense to me. Your top players came out of high school. Mostly all of them. You've got LeBron . . .
Green: Kobe [Bryant], Tracy [McGrady].
Jefferson: [Kevin] Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal, Shawn Kemp when he was in his prime.
Perkins: Kendrick Perkins.
(All three laugh.) What is the best part of being a teenager in the NBA?
Jefferson: The best part? When you do go back home, you're king.
Green: Normally, when you're in the NBA, you already know you've got just a couple years ahead of you. When you're young, you can live it a long time. So, it's your dream, if it's what you want to do . . . I'm going to give you an example, everybody likes to go to [the amusement park] AstroWorld. A kid doesn't want to go for a couple hours."
Perkins: AstroWorld is a whole other conversation.
Green: OK, we'll say Disneyland. A kid doesn't want to go to Disneyland for one or two days. He wants to go for a whole month. When you have a chance to live your dream, you're going to want to do it for as long as you can until you ain't got no more, like Reggie Miller did.
Perkins: It's like this, once you get the NBA logo on your chest, it's something different. It's just different. People look at you different and your life changes.
Jefferson: The thing I love about it is gaining respect from the other players around the league. When I went to the All-Star Game this season, it makes you feel good when they know you and they come up and shake your hand and say, 'You had a good year.' Most of those guys have been around a long time and they've seen a lot of things. Like Jermaine O'Neal. He blocked my shot all the time in the playoffs, but he said to me, 'Just keep working hard.'
Perkins: All high school guys, they all stick together.