Hudson hopes to make a point

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / October 26, 2009

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WALTHAM - Lester Hudson didn’t have another plan. He wasn’t thinking about going overseas and coming back. He wasn’t thinking about going to the D-League and working up. Not when he considered where he had come from.

Still, he’d be lying if he said that when the Celtics roster needed to be trimmed from 16 to 15 last Thursday, the nerves didn’t flare.

Over the course of the exhibition season, the second-round pick had gotten used to hearing coaches yell his name.

“ ‘Lester do this!’ ’’ he joked. “ ‘Lester! Lester! Lester!’ ’’

But in a way, he ate it up. After games, he’d study the scoresheets. After practice, he’d talk with veterans. On the court, when coach Doc Rivers would bark at the 6-foot-3-inch point guard, Hudson listened like they were the most important instructions he’d ever received.

“I love that,’’ Hudson said. “It doesn’t matter if a coach is nice to me or hard on me. It’s great to me because I learn from all of that. If they’re hard on me, that’s because they see something in me.’’

Having survived the final roster cut, Hudson is in the same position as J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker last year and Gabe Pruitt the year before that - rookies trying to contribute to a team loaded, with not just veterans but All-Stars and possible Hall of Famers.

Having seized opportunities that turned him from a high school dropout to a college graduate to a second-round NBA draft pick, the 25-year-old rookie sees this as another chance he can take advantage of.

“I’m in a position where I’ve got to learn everything right away if I want to play,’’ said Hudson. “The defense, the offense, everything. I’ve got to learn everything perfect.’’

He grew up in south Memphis. He and his mother stayed at his grandmother’s house, where at one point there were as many as 15 family members under one roof.

As much as he liked school as a youngster, by the time he got to ninth grade at Central High distractions had him skipping class. He usually found himself at the same spots, either Glenview Community Center or Idlewild Baptist Church, hanging out, playing ball. He failed ninth grade, but found a life preserver in basketball coach Andre Applewhite, who spotted him in the gym and gave him a spot on the team.

For the next two years, basketball kept Hudson as focused as he had to be on his grades, but when he ran out of eligibility his senior year, he also ran out of interest in school, ultimately dropping out. Meanwhile, he was still playing ball.

Applewhite kept in contact with Hudson, who was working on his GED, and one day called and asked, “Do you want to play ball for this junior college?’’

There was never a circumstance in which Hudson didn’t want to play basketball, so off he went to Southwest Tennessee Community College, ultimately turning that into a scholarship at Tennessee-Martin.

“To be able to play Division 1 basketball, to graduate and have a diploma . . . that turning point right there I always give to my high school coach,’’ Hudson said. “He never gave up on me. He never wanted to let my talent go to waste. He just wanted me to get an opportunity to get a degree. When I had the opportunity I took it to another level. Him believing in me made me believe in myself.’’

Hudson promised Applewhite he’d get a degree. What he was doing on the court - averaging 27.5 points his senior year - was extra credit.

What he’s learning with the Celtics is that he’ll have to go from being a star to perhaps the last man on the bench. In eight exhibition games, Hudson averaged 5.1 points.

“It’s tough for him to get on the floor,’’ Rivers said. “There’s so many guys in front of him. Not being on the floor just makes your job difficult. But his job is no more difficult than any of the new guys. He needs to learn things offensively and defensively. He needs to learn what a role player is, because most of the college kids who come in the league have been stars.’’

Hudson said it won’t be difficult to change roles.

“I like getting my teammates in the game, running the offense,’’ Hudson said. “I like to score too, now. But I had to do that at Tennessee-Martin for us to have a chance to win night in, night out. They gave me an opportunity and I took full advantage of it.’’

The opportunity is different with the Celtics, but Hudson’s plan is still the same.

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