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A look at the new Celtics, away from the court

Posted by David D'Onofrio  October 30, 2012 03:56 PM
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With the Celtics ready to tip-off a new season in Miami, much of the focus has been on one of their old teammates, as Ray Allen makes his debut for the Heat -- but Boston's pursuit of Banner 18 will be more about the new teammates who've been brought in to replace him and fortify the roster. Here’s a look at those seven new faces, and what they're about away from the floor.

Leandro Barbosa: The former NBA sixth man of the year comes to the Celtics after stops in Phoenix, Toronto, and Indiana -- and after receiving a rather hardcore introduction to the game as a kid in Brazil. Growing up as part of a family in Sao Paola, Barbosa's athletic abilities were seen as something of a meal ticket from an early age, and so Leandro was put through drills by his brother Arturo – who was 21 years his elder and a paratrooper in the elite Brazilian Special Forces.

Sgt. Barbosa apparently wielded a stick when putting his brother through drills, and while it left the eventual first-round pick with an array of agile moves, and helped maximize the footspeed that later earned him the nickname of “The Brazilian Blur,” pain was sometimes the price of the training.

"He would have me hold out my hands and he would hold the stick," Leandro told the Arizona Republic before his rookie season in 2003. "It was for agility. He'd move the stick, and if the hands didn't move, that stick would hit really hard. Sometimes, I almost couldn't play in organized games because my hands were so sore."

Since becoming the fourth of his countrymen to reach the NBA, Barbosa has tried to spread the game to Brazilians in a different way, several times returning as part of the league’s Basketball Without Borders.

Jason Collins: The Stanford-educated 7-footer came on the national scene when he and brother Jarron helped lead the Cardinal to the 1998 Final Four. Since then he’s had a journeyman’s career in the NBA – but apparently neither of the Collins twins was the best dunker on his high school hoops team.

According to a 1995 L.A. Daily News story, the best dunker on the state champion Harvard-Westlake High School team was in fact the Collins’ backup at center: That was Jason Segel, the 60-foot, 4-inch star of “How I Met Your Mother,” who didn’t play hoops in (or even attend) college, choosing instead to pursue what has become a successful career in Hollywood..

Kris Joseph: The rookie second-round pick is the son of immigrants who moved from Trinidad and Tobago to raise their family in Montreal. There they settled in a section of the city that didn’t have a hoop on which brothers Kris and Maurice could play basketball, so rather than rims they instead supposedly shot at trash cans at an elementary school.

Maurice wound up coming to New England to play at the University of Vermont, while Kris’s travels took him to Washington, D.C., for high school and Syracuse for college. There he majored in human ecology.

Fab Melo: He’s a former Orangeman like Joseph, and a product of Brazil like Barbosa. But Melo’s journey to Boston has been unique.

At 22 he’s a first-round draft pick and NBA center, but at the age of 15 he had never played the sport and didn’t speak English. His mother sent him to Florida at 17, alone, where he lived with a host family and after joining the basketball team at the urging of his soccer coach parlayed that opportunity and his size into a scholarship at Syracuse.

He spent two seasons there, emerging as the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in his second, though with the Orange among the favorites in March, Melo was ruled academically ineligible and missed the NCAA Tournament. On every level from language to the lane, that journey makes Melo a – likely Maine-bound – project.

Darko Milicic: He will always be first remembered as the player selected second during a draft in which LeBron James went first, Carmelo Anthony went third, Chris Bosh went fourth, and Dwyane Wade went fifth. Because of that, he’ll forever be a punch line.

But even from that unfortunate choice made by the Pistons has come some positive, believe it or not. Last year, Milicic put the NBA championship ring and championship belt he won with Detroit in 2004 up for auction in an effort to raise money and awareness for terminally ill children battling Batten’s disease.

He learned of the affliction through a newspaper story telling of a family dealing with the disorder in his native Serbia, and paid for four patients to be treated in China. Those treatments reportedly cost roughly $35,000 apiece, though, so he pledged his ring to help more moving forward.

Jared Sullinger: No, he’s not that Jared. But when he needed to drop a few pounds between his freshman and sophomore seasons, Sullinger apparently went to the same methods as his namesake. According to USA Today, Sullinger cut back on his trips to McDonald’s and Wendy’s and instead went to Subway – a decision he said "really helped me out, because my game has stepped to another level.” The result was reportedly the shedding of 16 pounds, with the 6-foot-9 forward dropping to 264 at the start of his final season at Ohio State.

Purdue fans apparently noticed, chanting “Subway diet!” during a game – but the worse razzing that day, really, was Boilermaker Nation getting on him for this atrocity:

Courtney Lee: Lee’s off-the-court story involves a memory he carries with him every time he steps on to the court. It’s with him in the form of a tattoo on his right arm that bears the image of his late friend Danny Rumph.

Coming from Indianapolis, Lee experienced homesickness when he arrived for his freshman year at Western Kentucky, but then he met Rumph, the junior from Philadelphia who could relate to what Lee was going through, and saw to it that his new teammate stick it out. The two became close friends, “inseparable” by some accounts – but just after the end of his first year of school, Lee received a call during a visit home. Rumph had died after suffering hypertrophy cardiomyopathy and collapsing during a pickup game in Philly.

A month later, Lee got etched in memory of Rumph. And since then, everything he’s done on the court has been dedicated to his friend’s memory.

Jason Terry: Terry is another who lets his ink do the talking. Two years ago he tattooed the Larry O’Brien Trophy on his biceps before the 2010-11 season – and his Mavericks followed through on that bravado by winning the NBA title. This summer, after signing with Boston, he put on his thigh an image of Lucky the Leprechaun spinning the O’Brien on his finger.

And so now that’s the mission that begins tonight.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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Dave D'Onofrio follows Boston's pro players away from the field, court or ice, covering their interests and activities in the community and beyond. A Massachusetts native, once his dreams of More »

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