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Sizing up Adrien

UConn forward should be worth a second look

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By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / June 25, 2009
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WALTHAM - Jeff Adrien’s home on High Street in Brookline was a few Green Line stops from Fenway Park and Boston Garden, and he grew up following the Red Sox and Celtics. Adrien’s connections have provided him with an inside look at the Red Sox: He has crammed into Fenway seats alongside Brookline High School social worker Paul Epstein, twin brother of Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.

But it was purely basketball ability that earned Adrien a workout with the Celtics Tuesday, likely his last performance as an amateur.

Though Adrien’s sentiments are with the Celtics, odds are against the University of Connecticut forward being chosen by Boston during tomorrow’s NBA draft, since the Celtics pick only once, at 58th.

“I remember those days when it was rough out here,’’ Adrien said of the Celtics’ days of mediocrity. “I remember those games with Dino Radja and Greg Minor, and even when times were rough, I was still watching.

“I’m very loyal to Boston, but whatever happens happens. You have to just keep going. You never know. The Celtics have made moves to get players, and if they want me, I think they’ll find a way to get me. And if they don’t, it’s all about the business and I understand that.’’

Adrien’s so-called “undersized’’ forward description - he’s 6 feet 6 inches, 235 pounds - rules him out as a first-rounder but could make him attractive to teams seeking a player in the mold of Jason Maxiell (Detroit) or Leon Powe (Celtics).

“There are bunch of guys my size who have had success,’’ Adrien said. “Glen Davis and Leon Powe paved the way. They opened doors for players like me.’’

Adrien, though, banged down his own doors to get to this point.

He was 6 years old when he moved with his mother, Linette, who is of Haitian descent, from Naples, Fla., to Boston. When Adrien started playing basketball at the Baker School, it became apparent he might have a future in the game.

“In the seventh grade, he had the softest hands I had seen, and a grace that is very rare in someone that young,’’ Baker School principal Tom Cavanaugh said.

“I thought he could be a star by state standards but you don’t know beyond that because he wasn’t that big yet. Jeff was focused and he really wanted to learn. All the bromides we use in sports - drive, commitment, work ethic, character - he really has all of them.’’

Adrien starred in high school but didn’t have his breakout performance until the summer of 2004, when he caught the attention of UConn coach Jim Calhoun at the Peach Jam tournament.

“He exploded on the national recruiting scene that July,’’ recalled Celtics assistant executive director of basketball operations Leo Papile, who coached Adrien with the Boston Amateur Basketball Club. “I remember sitting with Jimmy Calhoun and he said, ‘Lou Roe with a jump shot.’

“Lou Roe was a terrific college player, he played in the NBA and had a stellar career in Spain. [Adrien and Roe] turned out different but they had similar careers in terms of success.

“That one week in July really established him as a high major player. Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and Kansas all were after him.’’

Adrien’s performance in a 60-59 win over Seattle in the quarterfinals clinched his status.

“We had an underdog team, and it was the best team in Seattle’s history - they had four or five NBA players, three were going to be early lottery picks,’’ Papile said. “And Jeff was a dominant player in that game.’’

Adrien played a year at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., then enrolled at UConn, where he compiled 33 double-doubles in his first three seasons.

“He led the Big East in double-doubles, and that’s a significant statistic,’’ Papile said. “If you look at guys who go to the NBA, rebounding generally will carry over. Guys who were double-figure rebounders in college, generally they equal that if they get a chance in the NBA.

“Jeff is probably a second-round guy who a lot of teams would love to have. ‘Undersized’ forwards are a novelty - the Carl Landry-Chuck Hayes duo in Houston, Maxiell in Detroit, we have Davis and Powe in Boston. They seem fashionable right now, and Jeff fits it to a T.’’

Adrien said he imitated Michael Jordan in his teenage years, but he established his identity in college as a post player who rebounds and sets screens, leaving the fadeaway jumpers to others.

“I bring toughness, leadership,’’ Adrien said. “I have to be more consistent with 15-foot jump shots. Being a warrior, doing what I do, just competing.

“This [Celtics] team likes to compete. They are a championship team and they are trying to get back to that.

“They do love to compete and I would love to be a part of it.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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