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Movin' on up

High schooler Jefferson will make leap to Celtics

WALTHAM -- Call it Plan 1 and Plan 1A.

The Celtics had two players in mind for the No. 15 pick, the first of three they exercised in the opening round of last night's NBA Draft. With 7-footer Robert Swift off the board and headed to Seattle at No. 12, Boston went with power forward Al Jefferson. With the Nos. 24 and 25 picks, the Celtics added guards Delonte West (Saint Joseph's) and Tony Allen (Oklahoma State). In the second round, Boston selected forward Justin Reed (Mississippi) with the No. 40 pick.

"We're not as talented at the big positions as I'd like us to be, but we have opportunities now," said executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge. "We have pieces to move. We're not near where we need to be to be a championship team, but we've improved. We're deeper, we're tougher, we're more athletic, and we're better shooters."

When Ainge talked after making the No. 15 selection, it was with a certain amount of relief. He feared both Swift and Jefferson would be gone by the time Boston was on the clock at Madison Square Garden.

Naturally, both Ainge and coach Doc Rivers also viewed the selection of the 6-foot-10-inch, 265-pound Jefferson with considerable satisfaction and optimism.

"He's one of the few big, young guys in the draft," said Ainge. "He's got a ways to go. He's not ready to make an impact, but he's got great basketball instincts. He has not been very well coached fundamentally. Everything he's done he's done on instinct. The thing I like about this guy is he loves to play basketball and he's tough, and he has an NBA body. We're very excited."

While the 19-year-old may have an NBA body, the numbers he recorded while competing for Prentiss (Miss.) High School were even more impressive. After averaging 42 points and 18 rebounds as a senior, Jefferson earned Mr. Basketball honors. He collected numerous All-America honors. He rated a spot on the 2004 USA men's junior national select team. Now, after finding himself a so-called man among boys in high school, Jefferson will be a boy among men in the NBA.

It's uncertain how quickly he will adjust and how much he can contribute next season.

"The kid can rebound [in the NBA] right now," said Rivers. "You might see him earlier than you think. But the thing with Danny is there's no pressure to put him on the floor. I don't have a sense yet [of when he can contribute]. It's tough with high school kids playing against high school kids. So, it's difficult to project. I know athletically he's ready."

Rivers added: "Obviously, the potential word is out there. We needed size, athleticism, and rebounding. We felt he was the best guy for the job. I'm very happy. I like Jefferson, in the fact that he's probably a better athlete than Swift. Swift is probably better skilled. I hate to liken anybody to another NBA player. But you look at Ben Wallace. Hopefully, [Jefferson is] a better scorer."

Boston selected college-tested guards with their back-to-back picks, admittedly adding wing players to a roster stocked with such types. But in the weeks leading up to the draft, Ainge promised he would select the best player available, without regard to the roster.

West finished his junior year as the second-leading scorer for the Hawks, averaging 18.9 points. He earned Atlantic 10 first-team honors and honorable mention All-America recognition. He teamed with point guard Jameer Nelson to constitute arguably the best backcourt in college basketball last season. Considered by many scouts as too small (6-4) to become an NBA shooting guard, Ainge believes West can turn into a strong point guard.

"We think Delonte West can play the point," said Ainge, who saw the No. 24 pick perform in such a role at the Chicago predraft camp. "He can be one of the best in the game."

Where that leaves Marcus Banks apparently remains a question for a later date.

But duplication, along with toughness and added athleticism, was a theme throughout the night. With Allen, the Celtics selected another 6-4 guard with a college pedigree. The Big 12 player of the year averaged 16 points with the Cowboys. More important than his offensive production, Allen earned a reputation as a tenacious defender in college.

"I liked his toughness," said Rivers. "Inside the 3-point line he was almost unguardable. His first step, his ability to explode to the basket stood out to me. He was the guy that during the [NCAA] tourney stood out to me."

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