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Draftees took the same path

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / June 28, 2011

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When they were high schoolers, 175 miles separated them. JaJuan Johnson was at Franklin Central High in Indianapolis, E’Twaun Moore was at East Chicago (Ind.) Central High. They knew of each other in passing, mostly because of their basketball exploits.

But, when the time came to pick a college, they became each other’s sounding board, weighing each college visit together.

“Everywhere we’d go,’’ recalled Johnson’s mother Rhonda Curlin, “He said, ‘If you go, I’ll go.’ ’’

Johnson was getting looks from Indiana, Marquette, and Xavier. Tennessee, Georgia Tech, and Miami had interest in Moore. Purdue wanted them both.

“At first, I think the other one wasn’t going to go,’’ said Moore’s father, Ezell.

E’Twaun went first, then JJ committed. It was like a team effort for them.’’

They were roommates their freshman and sophomore years at Purdue. After their junior season, they declared for the NBA Draft, then pulled out, deciding to stay an extra season with the Boilermakers. Now, they’re both in Boston. Johnson was the Celtics’ first-round pick, Moore their second-rounder.

This time, though, it was coincidence, not a joint decision. The hope is that familiarity breeds success.

“I was really excited just to have somebody you’re familiar with, you’re comfortable with, to go through this process with you makes it a lot easier,’’ said Johnson, who along with Moore was introduced not only to the media yesterday but to students at Edison K-8 School in Brighton where the Celtics unveiled a mobile computer lab.

Throughout the draft process, Johnson and Moore traded text messages, keeping each other updated and motivated.

“It was definitely exciting for both of us being chosen by the same team,’’ Moore said. “We didn’t know it was going to happen. But it’s great. I’m excited, and I can’t wait to start playing.’’

Johnson and Moore played 140 games together at Purdue. They won the Big Ten tournament in 2009. They lost to Virginia Commonwealth in the second round of the NCAA Tournament this spring. What Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge saw in both of them was progression and maturity.

“I think these guys have both improved a lot over the course of their college careers,’’ said Ainge. “They’ve played in a lot of big games, in a lot of hostile environments. They’ve been ranked very high at times in their college career, and been the ones that were expected to win. So they’ve been through a lot and I think that can only help as they’re getting ready for the NBA.’’

Coming back for their senior seasons allowed them to refine certain skills. The 6-foot-10-inch, 221-pound Johnson worked on putting the ball on the floor along with his post game and his pull-up jumper, morphing into the Big Ten player of the year and defensive player of the year.

“JaJuan’s definitely grown a whole lot, confidence-wise on the court and off the court, being more vocal, being more of a leader,’’ Moore said. “I was glad last year when he decided to come back to school because I almost thought I was going to lose him. He definitely came back better than ever his senior year, and he was a great player on a great team.’’

The 6-4, 191-pound Moore cut down on turnovers and dialed up his assists. His scoring spiked as well, thanks to deadlier 3-point shooting. He had a breakout game in February against Ohio State when he scored 38 points, knocking down 7 of 10 threes.

“E’Twaun’s definitely been the one that since Day 1 that’s held it down for our team,’’ Johnson said. “It seemed like time in time out he was the one that hit the big shots for us. Him playing at a high level since our freshman year is what really helped me bring my game up to his level.’’

Johnson and Moore will stay in Boston through Thursday, working out with the team, which also plans to invite undrafted free agent Gilbert Brown of Pittsburgh. With a lockout looming, they will soon train individually.

“Just going around a little bit, get acclimated to the city,’’ Johnson said. “Go around to the facilities, get acclimated with all that and really take as much in from these guys and what they have to tell us about the system as we can before we have to go into this lockout.’’

Ainge said yesterday the club plans to make a qualifying offer to Jeff Green, meaning they will have the option to match any offer to the restricted free agent. If no club makes Green an offer, he would come back to the Celtics on a one-year deal and would be an unrestricted free agent after next season.

“It will happen this week,’’ Ainge said.

The move allows the Celtics to give Green a longer look and expanded role this season after he came to the club in the trade for Kendrick Perkins in February. Green averaged 9.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 26 regular-season games.

Gary Washburn of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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