There’s a hand-drawn sign on the wall of the Jackson/Mann School in Allston — site of today’s introductory press conference for the three Celtics rookies — which reads, “Jackson Mann: A perfect place to learn.” It’s a motto that could also apply to Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo, and Kris Joseph, who were chosen by the Celtics in last week’s NBA Draft.
The press conference was held at the school to promote the organization’s community outreach, but there will be plenty of learning for the three rookies in the coming weeks.
Melo has the most to learn. At seven feet, he looks like an NBA player. But Melo will need to adjust not only to NBA basketball, but to adult life in a country to which he is new. The 22-year-old moved from Brazil to Florida when he was 17. He’d only started playing basketball two years earlier. On top of learning the game, he’s had to learn English and navigate the potentially treacherous path of a rising NBA prospect.
Melo has faltered along the way. He was declared academically ineligible in March and was forced to sit while his Syracuse teammates played in the NCAA tournament.
At one point during the press conference, Melo introduced his business adviser, whose name is Rodrigo. Making light of Melo’s academic troubles at Syracuse, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge asked, “Is Rodrigo your academic adviser as well?”
Ainge said he was trying to lighten the mood of the press conference, and Melo took the joke well. He came off as earnest and willing to learn during the press conference. His eyes lit up when a young girl at the school began speaking Portuguese, the language of his native Brazil, to him.
“I’m a very coach-able guy,” said Melo. “I think if they show me what to do, I will do it. I think my reaction is pretty good. I can protect the basket. I’m not worried about that. Just show me how to do it and I will do it.”
Melo said he received calls from both Kevin Garnett and Celtics coach Doc Rivers. He said Garnett was excited to teach him, and that Rivers told him his first practice would be hell. Melo and his former Syracuse teammate, Joseph, will need to adjust to playing man-to-man defense after playing a 2-3 zone in college.
“I’ve definitely played man in my lifetime,” said Joseph. “I know the basics.”
Said Sullinger, “We’ve got to remember that there’s three seconds on defense now, too,”
Sullinger is the rookie most likely to make an impact on the team this season. Ainge said he would put all three rookies on a crash course to get them up to speed and ready to play as soon as possible. He said he expected Sullinger to play both power forward and center.
Sullinger said he was excited to be facing man-to-man defense in the NBA because it will allow him to show off more versatile aspects of his game.
“With the collegiate defense you can pack it in,” said Sullinger. “I really had to go with what the defense gave me by forcing me to the double-team a lot. Pretty much all I had was back-to-the-basket because there really was no place for me to move. I can shoot the outside shot, I can face up.”
A likely top-five pick last season, Sullinger’s stock slid in the draft over questions about his size — he is 6-9 — and questions about a bad back. Sullinger was asked about his slide down to the 21st pick.
“I don’t have any back problems,” said Sullinger. “It is what it is. I’m just playing basketball. I finally have a job. Now it’s time to take the next step and just get ready to play.
“I think it’s a blessing in disguise, honestly. If you consider me dropping to the Boston Celtics a drop, then I’ll do it all over again, without a hesitation. It’s been like that all my life. When I was younger, everybody said I was too big, Going into high school, they said I wouldn’t be able to play that fast. Going into college, they said I wouldn’t be able to keep up. It’s just the way I live my life.”
Joseph, Syracuse’s leading scorer, said he would use his second-round pick as motivation.
“Where I landed in the draft is where I landed,” said Joseph. “Nothing I can do about it now besides get better.”