LAS VEGAS -- From afar, the big-man tutorials often look like two guys nudging each other around the paint. But in actuality, Celtics assistant coach Clifford Ray is instructing rookie Glen "Big Baby" Davis on everything from drop steps to the value of explosiveness, to the mental aspect of NBA games. When the pair leaves the gym long after the rest of the Celtics' Summer League team, it is clear Davis has found a mentor in Ray.
Then again, it was an obvious choice. Players like Al Jefferson, Orlando power forward Dwight Howard, and Chicago center Ben Wallace credit Ray with helping their development. Ray sees potential in the 6-foot-9-inch Davis and knows all the small steps needed to become a legitimate NBA big man. With proper instruction, the Celtics hope Davis can become another second-round success story, following the lead of Ryan Gomes and Leon Powe. But before that can happen, Davis understands he must learn from Ray and others, and keep his weight in check.
"[Ray] does know what he's talking about," said Davis. "You just kind of listen to him, everything he says, every little thing, every big thing, because it means a lot. He's just trying to make me the best player I can be."
After observing Davis in the Summer League opener and more than a half-dozen practices, Ray believes the rookie should first work on his explosiveness. To do that, Davis must continue to lose weight and improve his conditioning. Currently, his weight fluctuates between 289 and 295. He hopes to arrive at camp at 280 and play between 280 and 285.
"The difference between college and professional ball, especially for a college big, is being able to explode," said Ray. "Right now, his explosiveness in the game is not there, but you see it in flashes. Our job is to get it to where it's consistent, to where he's [using] it one, two, three times. When he starts to work, like now, he's going to shed 2, 3, 5, maybe 8 pounds. That's going to contribute to him [becoming more explosive]."
Davis doesn't shy away from discussions concerning his weight, though he declines to tell how heavy he became at Louisiana State. He knows his larger incarnation, along with his decision to remain at LSU for his junior season, probably cost him a spot in the first round. Davis said he received promises from a couple of teams to pick him in the first round of the draft, but those teams bypassed him.
"When that happened, it was every man for himself, survival of the fittest," said Davis. "When you look at [falling to No. 35 in the second round], you've got to have a little chip on your shoulder. But you can't think like that, because you're not thinking in a positive way.
"Some people might not have seen [that he can play] or might have had questions. Boston knows what I can do, knows what my potential is. I'm a loyal guy. For them to give me a chance and have 30 other teams pass me up, my everything from now on is for the Boston Celtics."
With statements like that, and an engaging personality, Davis appears destined to become a fan favorite. But to gain favor within the organization, Davis would be wise to continue building on the strengths he exhibited at LSU, where he led the Southeastern Conference in rebounding (10.4 per game) as a junior. After the Celtics finished 20th in the league in rebounding (40.35 per game) last season, they can use any player who provides a presence on the boards.
Davis believes he now has the maturity to contribute to an NBA team in any way necessary. In his professional debut against the Portland Trail Blazers, Davis started and finished with 3 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists, not to mention 8 fouls, in 24 minutes. Davis admitted he will need some time to adjust to the faster pro game, though he appeared to have no problem quickly finding open teammates. Powe was the beneficiary of a couple of perfectly timed Davis passes inside.
"He's got great instincts, not just for a big, but for any player," said executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge, who watched the Celtics scrimmage against the Detroit Pistons yesterday at the Cox Pavilion practice court. "He has a feel for the game. He has to learn [about] the length and athleticism of the NBA players to utilize that sometimes. He still makes a pass into the outstretched hand of an NBA-type player. But he has good vision.
"He's one of those guys that when he gets the ball and teams are trapping point guards on pick and rolls, or post players, if the ball comes out to him, he can both make the shot from the outside and he can make plays for other people off of the rotations."
With Ray giving daily tutorials and Davis determined to drop some more weight, the rookie could experience a quick learning curve. Given how Davis thinks he has grown as a player in the past year, picking up the NBA game quickly would not be a big surprise to him.
"As a player last year, I felt I wasn't confident enough to play on this level," said Davis. "My mind, my body wasn't right. So I wanted [my NBA career] to be when it was going to best benefit Glen Davis. You touch this level and you have to be ready. That's the most important thing. I feel like I'm ready now, even though I went in the second round. I have no regrets about anything."
Shira Springer can be reached at email@example.com.