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Celtics go back to high school

Green slides out of lottery to No. 18

WALTHAM -- When the phones started ringing non-stop in the draft war room minutes before they made the No. 18 selection, the Celtics knew they had lucked out with Gerald Green. No one expected the Houston high school phenom to last past the lottery selections. But after Portland did not take Green at No. 6, Boston thought there was a chance he might slide. Maybe to No. 10. When the 6-foot-8-inch wing player fell out of the top 12, executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge started ''begging" the basketball gods that Green be there at No. 18. And when he was, the Celtics' celebration began in earnest.

The good fortune continued in the second round, when Boston selected Providence forward Ryan Gomes and University of Louisiana-Lafayette point guard Orien Greene. Ainge thought the Celtics could not have ''drawn it up any better, as far as getting lucky." Ainge projected Gomes as a first-round selection, and believed Greene underachieved in college because of injuries. As a result, the Celtics were as enthused as they were last year at this time.

''We're very excited about our pick here at 18," said Ainge. ''I'm sure a lot of teams say this kind of stuff. We had [Green] ranked way up in this draft. We thought he was going sixth to Portland. We found out in the last couple days, because he didn't work out in Portland, that they might take [Martell] Webster instead. We'd been doing a little research and thinking, 'This guy may not have a home.' But we thought, 'Somebody will definitely take him.' So, I guess, we're the lucky team that got to take him.

''We think he's got a tremendous upside. This kid can shoot and he can fly. On the downside, he's 19 and he's not ready to win in the NBA. I'd be surprised if he beat out our young guards in Delonte [West] and Tony [Allen] and obviously Paul [Pierce] and Ricky [Davis]. He's just another piece for the future."

Despite the unexpected drop, Green's agent, Andrew Vye was pleased to see his client land with the Celtics.

''With a quality basketball team set up to help young players in the transition process, if we were going to fall, we couldn't have fallen to a better place," said Vye. ''A lot of people will realize they made a mistake."

Green joins a Boston squad that grows younger with each passing year as Ainge works to build with talent and athleticism. As the second consecutive player the Celtics have drafted straight from high school, Green joins Al Jefferson (No. 15 in 2004) on a short, but intriguing list. And for the third consecutive year, the Celtics added a highly regarded prep player, with Kendrick Perkins having come on board in 2003. Since Boston will start training camp with seven players 23 or under, Ainge will rely on trades and free agency to add experience to the roster.

Still, they have high hopes for Green. Both Ainge and coach Doc Rivers cited the development of Jefferson last season as a promising model. When preseason started, they did not expect Jefferson to contribute, but by the end of the regular season he had earned a regular spot in the rotation.

Stylistically, Green stands as an undeveloped amalgam of Davis (athletic ability) and Paul Pierce (scoring ability). Rivers called him ''an athletic freak." Ainge preferred ''the best athlete in the draft." According to scouts, he is an explosive, quick player with good range.

After averaging 33 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists as a senior for Gulf Shores Academy in Houston and earning praise as the top high school prospect in the country, he drew comparisons to Tracy McGrady and Rashard Lewis. Rivers, who worked with McGrady in Orlando, did not shy away from drawing such parallels.

''Obviously, if the kid turned out to be like that we'd be on our way," said Rivers. ''He absolutely does remind me of [McGrady]."

Rivers added: ''We had a bunch of names and Green was not one of them, not because we didn't like him, but because we didn't think he'd be available. We need to keep trying to get more athletic. He's a kid, so we're not going to get too excited. It's great for me that I've coached a high school kid. Some of the mistakes I made with Al, I won't make with this kid."

Rivers took the McGrady comparison a step further when he noted that adding more talent would only help Paul Pierce. At least, Rivers felt surrounding McGrady with better players in Orlando helped his game.

''Paul has enough pressure, as far as I'm concerned," said Rivers. ''We've probably put too much pressure on him. We did see every time we add talent to our team, Paul Pierce becomes a better basketball player. It was the same thing for me in Orlando, when we were adding talent around Tracy. Tracy was better. Tracy was happier."

Last night, no one was happier than the Celtics.

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