Jefferson A Big Deal For Celtics

FAYETTEVILLE - There's lots brewing in Beantown these days.

Young Boston flame-thrower Bronson Arroyo (a Dade City kid we covered back in The Tampa Tribune days) continues to befuddle batters as the Red Sox nip at the Orioles' wings, several games ahead of those, um, dang Yankees.

New England's Patriots just re-signed quarterback Tom Brady in hopes of reloading for yet another legitimate Super Bowl shot.

The Rolling Stones are headed there to toss out some serious jams in Fenway Park on Aug. 21.

Then there's Al Jefferson.

Remember him? He's the man-child from Prentiss, Miss., who signed to play for Arkansas before declaring for the 2004 NBA Draft.

We can only speculate on the impact the 6-foot-10, 265-pound forward would've had here. But there's little doubt he would've made a giant impression, inside (the Southeastern Conference paint) and out (of the lockerroom, perhaps holding the fragile Hogs together rather than watching their wills be shattered after a 13-1 start that ended at 18-12).

Really, it was a pipe (loaded with who knows what) dream to think Jefferson would actually come here. Just too big-time. Heck, the McDonald's All-American often dominated top pick Dwight Howard in all-star games and he averaged 42 points his senior season at Prentiss High.

Looking to rebuild, Danny Ainge, the Celtics director of basketball operations, snatched Jefferson with 2004's 15th pick. With two other first-round selections, Ainge took guards Delante West (24th) and Tony Allen (25th). Early in the second round, he picked up All-SEC forward Justin Reed (40th), of Ole Miss.

Veteran Celtics center Raef LaFrentz (the third overall pick in 1998 by the Nuggets) wasn't impressed.

"At the beginning of the year my expectations (for them) were not very high, to be honest with you," LaFrentz told the Boston Herald after the Celtics were eliminated in Game 7 of their first-round series against the Pacers.

"But they grew quickly, and I think everybody saw that happening with their opportunities. As their opportunities got greater and greater, they really bloomed."

None more than Jefferson, who was named by NBA coaches to the got milk? NBA All-Rookie second team.

"He deserves it," Celtics coach Doc Rivers told the Herald. "I just think this is the start of something for Al and our team. I think Al has put in the time, and when you put in the time and do the work, you get the benefits. And he's done that.

"He's a great kid."

On the verge of becoming, at all of 20, a great player, largely because he works his tail off during practices, which reportedly are "spirited" because they mostly match the young guns against the veterans.

Despite missing almost three weeks because of a sprained right ankle, Jefferson played in 71 regular-season games, averaging 6.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in 14.8 minutes.

He scored a career-high 19 points in the 101-99 win against the Heat on April 15 and 10 or more 17 times (the Celtics were 13-4 in those games).

To put that in perspective, Reed, who dominated most SEC teams for four seasons, played in just 23 games, managing just 1.8 points and .70 rebounds in only 5.3 minutes.

Jefferson, either the first or second off the bench, depending on the situation, really grew in the playoffs, averaging 6.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and almost no turnovers in 19.1 minutes.

Too much, too soon?

Sort of, said Rivers after Saturday's elimination.

"We were depending on a 20-year-old player to give us low-post scoring," Rivers told the Herald. "But Al will improve."

Scary thought for the rest of the league.

Said Jefferson to the Herald: "We are going to be a fantastic team, me, Kendrick (Perkins), Marcus (Banks), Delonte, Tony and Justin. We are going to be a great team. We are going to be unbelievable.

"There is all this talent just waiting to explode."

Jefferson's fuse clearly was lit during the series with the Pacers.

His highlights:

• Game 1 (Celtics 102-82 in Boston): Jefferson scored all 8 of his points in the second quarter as Boston ran away. In 17 minutes, he hit all 3 field-goal attempts and both free-throw tries. He also had 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and no turnovers.

"We came out full of energy," Jefferson said.

Said the Pacers' Stephen Jackson: "Those young kids can play."

• Game 2 (Pacers 82-79 in Boston): In 9 minutes, Jefferson made just 1 of 3 from the floor, scoring 2 points. But in that short amount of time, he had 5 rebounds (2 offensive), an assist, one block and one turnover.

• Game 3 (Pacers 99-76 in Indianapolis): Struggled mightily here. In 19 minutes, hit 1 of 5 from the floor and 2 of 4 free throws for 4 points. Just 1 rebound, 2 steals and a turnover.

• Game 4 (Celtics 110-79 in Indy): In 25 minutes, Jefferson had 5 points (2 of 6 from the field, 1 of 1 from the line), 7 rebounds (tying Paul Pierce for the team lead) and 1 turnover.

• Game 5 (Pacers 90-85 in Boston): In 14 minutes, he made 2 of 3 from the floor and both his free throws for 6 points. Had 4 rebounds and a turnover.

• Game 6 (Celtics 92-89 in Indy): Jefferson's playoffs coming-out party. The TNT crew (including John Thompson, father of Arkansas assistant Ronny) was going nuts over him. With good reasons. In 29 minutes, Jefferson had a game-high 14 rebounds, including a game-high 8 offensive. He scored 11 points by hitting 5 of 12 field-goal attempts and making his only free throw. He also had 2 blocks, an assist and a steal. And zero turnovers.

• Game 7 (Pacers 97-70 in Boston): In 23 minutes, Jefferson made only 3 of 9 from the floor and 1 of 2 from the line. But he tied LeFrentz with 7 rebounds (including a team-high 4 offensive), and he blocked 3 shots and had a steal with no turnovers.

Wrote the Herald: "Few first-year players in the league showed as much promise as Jefferson."

Said Jefferson to the Herald: "We are the future. I thought we showed them this year. And with a couple more years and some more experience, we are going to become a team to beat."

With Jefferson, you might well make that the team to beat.

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