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They just couldn’t back off on Sullinger

Injury concerns quickly abated

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / June 29, 2012
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The Celtics were reassured about selecting Jared Sullinger partly because of their relationship with his agent, David Falk. Sullinger had been projected to go higher, but his status changed in recent weeks because of a back injury.

“Jared had some health concerns, but we felt like the reward was worth the risk,” director of player personnel Austin Ainge said Thursday night. “If you’re picking toward the end of the first round everything’s not going to be perfect, but we feel like these guys were what we wanted and we’re really excited.”

The Celtics based their judgment on Sullinger’s medical reports, but did not bring the former Ohio State standout in for a workout. Second-round pick Fab Melo did work out for the Celtics.

“There were what you could term minor concerns with the back,” Celtics assistant general manager Ryan McDonough said of Sullinger. “But it wasn’t enough to deter us from taking him. We think if Jared were completely healthy he would be a top-10 pick. Our doctors and our basketball staff determined it was worth what we would consider to be a slight risk.

“Jared has been one of the best players in his class his whole life. He’s played against the biggest, longest, most athletic guys in AAU, in high school, and college and had good success at all levels.

“Jared is one of the better rebounders in the country. He has a great feel for where the ball’s going to come off, he has terrific hands, his rebound rate for per minute is very good.

“He’s also able to move away from the basket and make shots and that’s an area he’s improved in, I think, over the past few years. He was a back-to-the-basket player in high school, he was always the biggest, strongest guy around — and he’s developed a nice face-up game, he shot about 40 percent from ‘3’ this year, although that was on limited attempts.”

McDonough said Melo has played basketball for less than four years.

“Fab grew up as a soccer player in Brazil, he’s coming to the game late,” McDonough said. “I thought he struggled some his freshman year, then I thought he improved rapidly this year. His coaches gave him great reviews. The difference in his team when he was on the court was really significant.

He can block shots and take charges, so he’s a defensive presence right now. We also think he’s an over-the-top threat on lobs and he’s also a threat on 15-17-foot jumpers.

“There’s a little bit of learning curve with Fab — he played zone at Syracuse, played soccer most of his life, he’s new to the game of basketball. But the coaches at Syracuse said he’s a very quick learner. Our eyes told us that, just from watching him as a freshmen and watching his improvement this year. He’s one of the more dominant defensive players in the country. So, any time a guy started playing basketball about three or four years ago, there’s some concern.”

No room to move

McDonough confirmed the Celtics attempted to move up in the draft, but did not come “very close” to doing so.

“To be honest, we had a number of players we liked and once you got past the late lottery we had enough guys,” McDonough said. “So, we didn’t want to lose two picks to get one guy we might have rated slightly higher. And, you know, we had Jared and Fab rated very highly. In retrospect it would have been a shame if we had traded two picks and just got one of those guys, instead of getting both of them.

“We got potential starters down the road at the power forward and center positions. By all accounts they’re good kids and hard workers.”

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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