|RAY ALLEN Assuming a mentor role|
ROME - Celtics newcomer Ray Allen has already preached to his young backcourt mate Rajon Rondo about the importance of being mentally and physically ready to knock down big shots late in games. With opponents' defensive emphasis likely to be on Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce, the ball could end up in Rondo's hands at crucial times.
Sure it was only practice, but Allen's mentoring began paying dividends Sunday as Rondo nailed a jumper that sealed a victory for the first team over the second in an intense scrimmage.
"He's just showing me the ropes of the game," said Rondo, 21. "He's been in the game so long. He kind of talks to me and tells me what I need to improve on or sees what I need to improve on.
"He gives me advice. He doesn't try to be my coach."
At training camp last year, Rondo was a rookie fighting for playing time at point guard with Delonte West and Sebastian Telfair. With West and Telfair being young, too, Rondo couldn't turn to them for help in his first NBA season.
But offseason trades sent West and Telfair packing and left Rondo as the Celtics' point guard of the future. While Boston has other point guard possibilities in Eddie House, Tony Allen, and rookie Gabe Pruitt, Rondo has already been proclaimed the starter by coach Doc Rivers. The Celtics are confident in Rondo despite skeptics questioning whether a veteran starter or backup point guard is needed.
"I really don't even read anything or listen to anybody," Rondo said. "You hear the [skepticism]. It is what it is. There will always be critics in everything you do. I'll just try to do my best."
Allen, a six-time All-Star, was acquired in a June 28 trade from Seattle. Once he began working out at the Celtics' practice facility in Waltham, Mass., he noticed that Rondo would be there early in the morning working out alone. Allen said he started going in early, too, so the new backcourt mates could get on the same page and also to go through his own grueling shooting workouts.
At first, when Allen joined Rondo in workouts, he gave advice only when asked.
"There will be times when I'll look over my shoulder and say something to him," said Allen, 32. "I'll try to make sure that I'm not too overbearing. You've got to give him his space and he's got to learn from the mistakes he's going to make out there. We got to let him know that we support him.
"He's watched, I'm sure, a lot of us play at a young age. He's doing fine. I just want to make sure he continues to get better."
Allen, who averaged a career-best 26.4 points last season, is considered one of the NBA's purest shooters and won the league's 3-point shooting contest in 2001. Rondo shot .418 from the field last season and made only 6 of 29 3-point attempts.
Allen has instructed him to consistently shoot while jumping at the same height. Allen also taught him a tough individual drill that builds stamina and concentration: He continually shoots contested jumpers, back and forth, from both sides of the elbow, getting 1 point for every made shot and minus-2 for every miss. He wins by reaching 10 points or loses by reaching minus-10. Rondo has finished the drill successfully in as little as four minutes.
"Ray said he is consistent in jumping at the same height every time he shoots the ball," said Rondo, who also is strengthening his legs with weight training. "He said that being a consistent shooter is based on your legs. Every time I shoot the ball, I need to jump on my shot.
"If you have someone running at you during the game, you know you're going to jump. I just have the mentality to jump every time like it's game situations."
Pruitt sprained his right ankle in yesterday's practice and was listed as day-to-day. "He'll get over it," Rivers said. "You don't want it to happen because he's been playing pretty well." Rivers added that Garnett, Rondo, and Kendrick Perkins also are playing well so far . . . The Celtics were scheduled to practice twice yesterday, but the second session (a walk-through at the team hotel) was canceled, team spokesman Jeff Twiss said . . . Italian soccer legend Alessandro Del Piero visited the Celtics' first practice yesterday . . . Most of the Celtics players took part in a lengthy visit to the famed Spanish Steps Sunday. The Celtics are scheduled to have a private tour of the Vatican tomorrow and tour the Colosseum Saturday. "This place is magnificent," Ray Allen said. "I walked around for a little bit. We all had history growing up. Some of the things we learned about ancient Rome [I saw] walking down these fabled streets." . . . The Celtics play Toronto in their preseason opener here Saturday before going to London Oct. 7-10.
Several Eastern Conference stars recently told the Globe that they weren't convinced the Celtics would succeed with Pierce, Garnett, and Ray Allen. Indiana forward Jermaine O'Neal joined the skeptics yesterday when asked about the Celtics during the Pacers' media day. "It's tough to bring in players that are 20-point-or-better scorers last year," O'Neal said. "The last team I think tried that was the Los Angeles Lakers when they had [Gary] Payton and Karl Malone. Those guys were older and at the end of their career. It's easier to step in and accept change. I think the key component to that really working is Kevin Garnett, just because of his mentality. He's going to be the glue that makes that machine work." When asked if he thought the Celtics would win the NBA title, O'Neal said, "I don't think so. I think they will be better next year than this year."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com