WALTHAM, Mass. — Several local prospects have laced up their sneakers at the Boston Celtics’ practice facility over the past few weeks, hoping to catch the eye of the team they grew up rooting for ahead of the 2014 NBA draft.
None of them, however, have come close to touching the hype that surrounds Indiana’s Noah Vonleh, the first surefire top-10 pick to come through the Celtics’ doors this spring.
Vonleh, a Haverhill, Mass., native and New Hampton Prep graduate, was the headliner of Boston’s fourth day of pre-draft workouts Wednesday, showcasing his skills for the team that could very well use its top pick on him later this month.
“All the workouts were pretty good, but this one just had a little bit more meaning to it because it’s my hometown,” the 6-foot-10, 240-pound big man told reporters. “Not everyone gets a chance to work out for their hometown team. … It would be a blessing being able to stay home and play in front of my friends and family — just growing as a player right in my backyard.”
Though he’s among the youngest players in this year’s draft class — he turns 19 in August — Vonleh already has shown a great deal of growth on the basketball court. He said he spent significant time working on his jump shot and ball handling with an Indiana student manager during his one year in Bloomington, and Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge, who watched Vonleh play at New Hampton on multiple occasions, said he’s already seen noticeable improvement in his game.
“If you go back and look at the YouTube clips (from his high school days), he’s already gotten a lot stronger,” Ainge said. “He is going to be a very strong kid. He has a big frame, big legs, big shoulders. The physicality has definitely improved, and his shooting has improved, and one thing you can see from him in high school is he can handle the ball a lot. … He can actually dribble pretty well.”
Vonleh prides himself on being a versatile player — one with the size to bang and defend down low but also the ball skills and shooting capability to be a threat on the perimeter. He mostly played center at Indiana, leading the Big Ten in rebounding with 9.0 boards per game, but is projected as an NBA power forward and can even envision himself seeing time as a stretch-4 or 3 with more seasoning.
In a draft stocked with talent at power forward position, Vonleh hopes this will help him stand out from the pack.
“(The Celtics) watched me a lot during the season,” he said. “They said they like my game a lot. (Wednesday), I showed them a bit of my versatility. I can step out and shoot, be in different situations, pick-and-pop, knock down the three, play in the post and do different things like that.”
Vonleh has worked out for four teams with top-eight picks in this year’s draft: the Orlando Magic (No. 4), Celtics (No. 6), Los Angeles Lakers (No. 7) and Sacramento Kings (No. 8). Wednesday’s workout might be his last, Vonleh said, though he still is considering visiting the Philadelphia 76ers (No. 3) and Utah Jazz (No. 5) before concluding his pre-draft preparations.
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