On the latest episode of his podcast, “The Pitino Press,” former Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino couldn’t stop gushing about his guest: Celtics point guard Terry Rozier.
Pitino, however, isn’t someone who jumped on the “Scary Terry” bandwagon during Boston’s electrifying playoff run last season. The 66-year-old has been singing Rozier’s praises ever since he recruited the Ohio native to Louisville, where Rozier played two seasons before declaring for the 2015 NBA Draft. Leading up to the draft, Pitino wasn’t shy about pushing for the projected second-round pick, particularly to Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
Rozier said he worked out for 17 or 18 teams, including the Celtics twice. He said there were four other prospects with him in Boston, but he doesn’t remember who they were. What he does remember is the grueling 55-shot shooting drill.
“I did it twice,” Rozier told Pitino. “I extended my workout, like I went longer than the drill was supposed to be just so I could do the drill again.”
According to Pitino, Ainge phoned to ask, “Is he always like this?”
“He’s never seen anybody do it a second time,” Pitino said. “My response was, ‘Danny, look, if you can get him in the first round, you’re going to get a hell of a basketball player.’ He was intrigued by what he said was the work ethic you had.”
In 2015, the Celtics had two first-round draft picks (No. 16 and No. 28) and two second-rounders (No. 33 and No. 45). Pitino, naturally, was a strong proponent that Ainge draft Rozier just outside the lottery at No. 16.
“When I first talked to Danny, I said, ‘Danny, you need to take him in the first round,’” Pitino recalled. “He said, ‘Well, Rick, I can’t take him at [No.] 16, I’ll get second-guessed.’ I said, ‘Danny, you won a championship, you’re Danny Ainge, man, you could do anything now. I said, ‘I’m telling you he’s worth it.’ He started laughing.”
Per Pitino, Ainge called him again either the night before or the morning of the draft and informed him that he was still interested in selecting Rozier with the later first-round pick. But Pitino insisted waiting would not work in Boston’s favor.
“I said, ‘He’s moved up, Danny, I think there are three teams going to take him at [No.] 24, 25, or 26, you need to take him at [No.] 16 and he’ll be a great pick for you,’” he relayed.
Pitino said former Celtics assistant coach Walter McCarty then called him and whispered on the phone, “We’re taking him at [No.] 16.”
The Celtics did end up drafting Rozier with the 16th overall pick. After the 24-year-old got his first chance as a starting point guard last year, helping lead an injured-plagued squad to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Pitino said he texted Ainge: “What do you think of the 16th pick now?”