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Big splash being made

Perkins grabbing share of attention

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kendrick Perkins is the best rebounding big man on the Celtics. Period. No debate.

The Celtics keep statistics from practices and the 6-foot-10-inch rookie center figuratively stands head and shoulders above the veteran competition in training camp. For the coaching staff of a team that ranked near the bottom of the league in rebounding last season, Perkins is a valued newcomer. Valued enough that he could even crack a center rotation that includes seventh-year veteran Tony Battie, 11th-year veteran Vin Baker, and fourth-year veteran Mark Blount.

When Jim O'Brien was asked how much playing time he anticipated giving Perkins this season, the coach said, "He has three veterans that also play center and he would have to beat them out for playing time. It's a tough task, but it's not out of the realm of possibility."

O'Brien added: "[Director of player personnel] Leo Papile said to me at one of the early practices, `You know what? If you came in and didn't know who the high school kid was, you wouldn't have been able to pick him out.' I think that's a great compliment to Kendrick."

It all translates into high praise, especially considering Perkins is just four months removed from Clifton J. Ozen High School in Beaumont, Texas, and just 16 days into his professional career. From the time Boston acquired Perkins through a draft night trade, it was clear the 18-year-old had NBA size and strength. The organization just was unsure how fast he would adapt to playing with the really big boys. So far, so good. By all accounts, Perkins quickly picks up practice suggestions and implements them into his play, though he remains modest about his progress.

"Practices are very intense and hard," said Perkins. "I'm just trying to get used to the level of competition, really get used to the whole NBA."

The challenge for the Boston coaching staff remains teaching Perkins how best to use his NBA body. Just four exhibition games into his professional career, Perkins is learning how big an asset his 290-pound frame can be. And the coaching staff and Perkins understand educating a big man is typically a big, long-term project. The rookie may be physically and mentally mature for his age, but the coaches see no advantage to rushing his development.

Everyone is willing to wait for what ultimately could be a really big addition.

"I think he is progressing well," said assistant coach Joe Gallagher, who was hired last year to tutor the big men and has spent a lot of time working with Perkins this preseason. "He's got a body that is immovable once he gets [in position]. We're trying to get him now, once he establishes himself, to maintain and seal people because nobody can get around him. We're trying to work with his hook shot, getting some space between the defender and himself to get the shots off.

"He wants to learn. He takes it from pre-practice onto the practice floor. The majority [of the time] he puts it to work. It's good to see that. I think that's something a lot of kids coming out of high school do not have, but he has it."

Perkins has seen action in three of the Celtics' four exhibition games. Last night against Detroit at The Palace, he scored 4 points, grabbed 1 rebound, and recorded 1 assist in 9 minutes. The Pistons routed the Celtics, 123-95, in last night's contest. In his longest outing so far, Perkins finished with 7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal in 18 minutes against Detroit in the exhibition opener.

But for now, Perkins does not concern himself with playing time or statistics. He has focused on adjusting to all facets of NBA life, not just what happens on the court, but also living away from home for the first time. When playing, he strives to make rebounding a calling card.

"I understand what's going on, so I really can't get upset [about how much I play]," said Perkins. "I feel very confident. The first game, I came in and I was like, `OK, I can play at this level.' That really boosted my confidence. I was all right the second game, too. I just had a couple turnovers, a few mistakes.

"I ask [O'Brien] about the offense. I never really ask him what it takes for me to get on the court. I just keep working. Everybody always says, `Work hard.' That's how I am. I know as long as I keep working it's going to pay off."

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