LAS VEGAS -- Dave Odom, the basketball coach at the University of South Carolina, was in Atlanta yesterday, watching potential future college players at an AAU tournament.
"I'm looking for the next Tim Duncan," quipped Odom, who coached Duncan at Wake Forest. "But I'd be happy if I could find the next Brandon Wallace."
Odom knows Wallace as well as anyone, having coached him for Wallace's four-year career with the Gamecocks, a career in which Wallace set school records for blocked shots and games. He knows the slender, 6-foot-9-inch Wallace didn't belong in the post, but that's where he had to play him because there was no one else. There are centers on the Celtics, however, and Wallace will play small forward for Boston, which signed him to a two-year, partially guaranteed contract one week into Summer League. As a free agent, Wallace was up for grabs, so the Celtics acted swiftly.
"Some of the skills that the Celtics saw right away were hidden when Brandon was in college," Odom said. "But he can pass. He can dribble. He can run with or without the ball and he makes good decisions. I think his game is better suited for the pros because of his body size."
Wallace has been the undeniable find of the Celtics' Las Vegas experience. His first basket was a dunk over Greg Oden, but the Celtics like him more for what he can do at the other end. "I love his defensive length," said Celtics basketball chieftain Danny Ainge. "He's long and athletic, a little Tayshaun [Prince]-[Andrei] Kirilenko-like, although not as good as those two. But in length and in shot-blocking ability, he's a little like them."
It's been quite a ride for the 22-year-old Wallace, who was disappointed not to have been drafted but, very quickly afterward, elated to know the Celtics wanted him. They had told him he had a spot on their Summer League team if he wasn't selected and the invitation came as soon as the draft ended.
"That phone call really brightened up my night," Wallace said yesterday. "There's so much uncertainty on draft night, you just never know. I had played well at Portsmouth [Invitational]. I worked out for the Knicks, Nets, Boston, and Portland. I was optimistic, but I'm also a realist. I knew it was a long shot that I'd get drafted. It still hurts a little, because it's a dream you have to hear your name called. But you deal with the hand you've got."
Odom said the Celtics will love's Wallace's work ethic. "Give him something to do and he'll do it and you won't have to watch him or worry about him," Odom said. Wallace is a coach's son, so he has the proverbial "basketball IQ."
There's some unfinished business at school -- Wallace plans to return to South Carolina this summer, finish up two courses (Human Resource Management and Marketing), and get his degree in August. "That's very important to me, my mom, and my family," he said. Then it should be back to Boston and the real test -- to find out if Wallace is NBA-ready or if he's another in a long line of Summer League wonders.
Odom thinks Wallace will make it. Ainge thinks Wallace will make it. As for the player himself, he knows it's all on him.
"He called me the night he got the contract," Odom said. "I told him it was great, but don't go getting fat and happy. He said, 'I won't, Coach. I know I've got to be better tomorrow than I was today.' That's the attitude you have to have to make it."
The Celtics moved to 2-1 in Summer League play last night with an 80-52 victory over the Chinese national team. The victory means Boston gets the No. 1 seed in the 2008 Asian Games. (Not really.) The Celtics got double-doubles from Leon Powe (23 points, 12 rebounds) and Glen Davis (10 points, 11 rebounds). Celebrated Chinese star Yi Jianlian had 7 points, but only a single field goal. He also had eight fouls.
The Celtics led, 43-25, at the half and kept the pressure on, building the lead to the 28-point spread at the end. Boston had a 43-28 rebounding edge and held the Chinese to 31 percent shooting. Powe was a monster, collecting eight of his rebounds off the offensive glass and also converting 9 of 12 from the line.
"I had a one-on-one with [coach] Doc [Rivers] before the game and he told me to forget about my offense, just play defense, rebound, and set screens," Powe said. "So that's what I did."
Rajon Rondo had 12 points and Gerald Green had 10 for the Celtics, whose next game is tomorrow against the Bucks.
Peter May can be reached at P_May@globe.com.