boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

For them, Rome not a holiday

Four players focus on making Celtics

(FILE/MAURICIO DUENAS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

ROME - While enjoying a tour of the Vatican museum Wednesday afternoon, ex-NBA player Donny Marshall recalled how he entered training camp without a guaranteed contract on two occasions. Once he made it, once he got cut.

But the difference between Marshall and Celtics hopefuls Esteban Batista, Dahntay Jones, and rookies Jackie Manuel and Brandon Wallace is Marshall wasn't trying to make a team during a European trip. The Celtics are in the midst of NBA Europe Live with stops here and in London, including an exhibition opener here tomorrow against the Toronto Raptors. Batista, Jones, Manuel, and Wallace are trying to land the final two spots on Boston's roster, and there is no timetable for cuts.

"It's definitely a distraction if you're trying to make the team," said Marshall, an analyst for Celtics broadcasts on Comcast Sports New England who was cut by the Nets in 2001. "You want to enjoy the trip, but you've still got to stay focused and realize that you're trying to make this team. You're in Rome, but at the same time in the back of your mind you can't really enjoy it because, 'I've got to take care of my body. I have to eat right.'

"This isn't what you're used to. The food is not what you're used to. The travel back and forth to the gym. You can't stay late. You can't get there early. There is really no time to get an edge. There are all kinds of emotions going on."

Batista, 24, played sparingly for the Hawks the last two seasons, averaging just 1.7 points per game. But the 6-foot-10-inch, 268-pounder averaged 20 points and a tournament-best 12 rebounds for Uruguay during the FIBA Americas Championship this summer in Las Vegas. The strong showing has aided his confidence.

"I have to show what I can do," said Batista. "I do my best and try to help the team in training camp. I hope everything will be fine. I know I have to work hard."

Jones, 26, has the most experience of the four hopefuls, playing four seasons for the Grizzlies. The ex-Duke star averaged career highs in scoring (7.5 points per game), rebounding (2 rpg), field goal percentage (.477), and free throw percentage (.793) last season. The athletic, 6-6, 210-pound guard said he also received interest from the Magic, Jazz, and Cavaliers. The Grizzlies didn't re-sign Jones because they were trying to acquire as much salary cap space as possible.

"I don't think it's a tough situation," said Jones. "I take it as a learning experience. If I continue to work, I'll have a chance."

Manuel went undrafted out of North Carolina last year and was cut in training camp by the Magic. The 6-5 guard averaged 9.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1 steal in the NBA Development League last season. He worked out with the Celtics for much of the offseason and said he is more relaxed now than when he tried out for Orlando.

"I've stopped thinking about it," said Manuel, 24. "I'm just going out there, having fun, working hard, and enjoying myself."

Wallace went undrafted out of South Carolina and is the only one of the four with guaranteed money in his contract, which he signed July 10. The 6-9, 203-pound forward averaged 4.2 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 assist in 22.4 minutes per game in summer league play. The Jackson, S.C., native also may have the surprise play of practice thus far, as he dunked on 10-time All-Star Kevin Garnett Wednesday. Batista and Wallace could be helped by the fact the Celtics are more in need of size than guards.

"I'm just going out trying to give it all I can," said the 22-year-old Wallace. "At the end of the day, if I worked hard, I'll be proud of myself. But if I don't work hard, I know I've blown an opportunity."

The Celtics' first team, Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, and Kendrick Perkins, redeemed itself during the lone practice yesterday. After losing to the second and third teams Wednesday, the first unit won both of its games yesterday.

"This [first team] has a whole lot of pride like you've never seen," Pierce said. "Even though it was just a practice [loss], it really affected us to get back out there today to make sure we do what we had to do to show that yesterday was an aberration.

"Not to take anything from the [second team] or the [third team], because they battle every day. We've got a great bench. These guys go hard every day. But we've got something to prove. We're going to have a target on our backs every single night, and that's how we have to approach practice."

Said coach Doc Rivers: "They just played team basketball. Played together."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

More from Boston.com

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES