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Be like the Celtics

Title run inspires, motivates the city’s young players

By Meghan E. Irons
Globe Staff / June 3, 2010

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Every day he hits the court for pick-up basketball at Jamaica Plain Community Center, 16-year-old Jocko Tate channels his favorite NBA player, doling out fake passes, leaving defenders in the dust, and speeding down the lane with all sorts of trickery.

Tate’s not trying to be like Mike. He’s trying to be like Rondo.

“I imitate him,’’ said Tate, with a sweet smile. “I use him in the games. The other day I got 38 points ’cause of him.’’

In driveways, local parks, and community centers across the city, boys and girls are devoted to Celtics players with an intensity that some say hasn’t been around since the days of Larry Bird. And in places like Roxbury and Dorchester, where the Celtics’ shamrock was once a reminder of the city’s racial tensions and Magic Johnson was a hero, loyalty to the Green may never have been so pervasive.

Twenty years ago Lakers jerseys were as likely to be seen there as Celtics. Now, players at English High School “are not thinking about the Lakers,’’ said Barry Robinson, head boys basketball coach. “Most of the time, they take a shot and they mention one of the Celtics’ players names.’’

Young players are assuming the names of Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen and spending hours practicing the moves of their favorites. But as much as they’ve attached themselves to the stars, many see in the team an ideal to aspire to.

“They are about anything that’s possible,’’ said Antonio Jones, a 19-year-old from Dorchester.

The all-girls Boston Showstoppers intramural team ran drills and sprints at a community center in Hyde Park this week, preparing for a Saturday game in New Hampshire and incorporating Celtics plays in the game plan.

Each player on the team has picked out the Celtic who plays her position and is trying to copy his style — Garnett’s pump fakes and fadeaways — along with his raw passion; Allen’s deadly three-pointers; Paul Pierce’s head fakes and elbow jumpers.

“I may try the layups they take, or the moves under the basket,’’ said Luzdali Ocasio, a 12-year-old from Milford. “Or I might try the spin moves.’’

Sayawni Lassiter, the team’s 10-year-old captain, is taking cues from Paul Pierce.

“He’s a leader, and I’m a leader,’’ she said. “I try to play hard, and I try to make free throws the way he does.’’

Almost everyone, it seems, has found inspiration in some element of the Celtics team. Malcolm Oliver, a point guard for the Junior Celtics, a club of 150 players at the Dorchester YMCA, explained why on the court he channels his inner Rondo.

“I’m always the smallest one and he’s always the smallest one,’’ said the 13-year-old at practice. “He does stuff that some of the big dudes just can’t do. When I watch him, I see him do a cross-over, and I go outside and try it.’’

Coach Ron Riggs said players on the team have never lacked enthusiasm for basketball, but with the Celtics in the finals two years of the past three, passion to play the game is soaring.

“We’ve got a couple of little Rondos in here, because they come in here and emulate what Rondo does as well as what (Kendrick) Perkins and KG do,’’ said Riggs.

At a neighborhood court in Fields Corner, Kadeem Davis, sporting #34 on his Celtics T-shirt one afternoon after school, was working out some of Pierce’s power moves while his friend Dimitri Aldophe worked on Garnett’s fadeaways.

“I try to shoot a lot of threes whenever I come out here — like he does,’’ said Davis. “But I miss them, so I’m not like Paul Pierce.’’

At Joseph Moakley Park ball court in South Boston recently, Eddie Ha was having doubts, too, about whether he’ll ever be able to mimic Rondo’s behind-the-back fake.

“It doesn’t work most of the time,’’ he said. “But I try.’’

Some have looked to the Celtics for more than moves on the court. Raymond Kirkland, of Dorchester, said that a year ago he had a basketball scholarship to Miami Dade College. But he lost it because he tried to be the star of the team, always taking the ball and trying to be the highest scorer.

“I lost my game, I lost the scholarship, and I got criticized,’’ he said.

Now at Bunker Hill Community College, he has been studying Garnett and learning that there’s more to the game, on and off the court.

“I wasn’t focusing on my defense, or the game of life,’’ he said. “Now I am. That’s what Kevin Garnett taught me.’’

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com.

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