Pitino stunned, thrilled to get Pierce
Posted: Wednesday June 24, 1998 10:50 PM
BOSTON (AP) -- A shocked and smiling Rick Pitino drafted a player who may be a perfect 10 for the Boston Celtics.
With the 10th pick Wednesday night, he snapped up Paul Pierce, projected by many to be one of the first three players taken. For some reason, he kept sliding and sliding until he dropped into the coach's eager arms.
"No matter what scenario we went over, we never expected to get Paul Pierce," said Pitino, who didn't even bother to bring Pierce in for a workout. "If you can get someone who can run, score and rebound from the small forward position, he fits us to a T."
The 6-foot-6 Pierce, of Kansas, also is a fast runner and strong defender, talents essential to Pitino's uptempo offense and pressing defense.
In each of his three college seasons, Pierce increased his scoring, field goal and free throw percentages, rebounds and assists. He admitted he needs to work on his ballhandling but averaged 20.4 points per game as a senior.
So why did one player after another get taken in the NBA draft in Vancouver before a player of his skills and athleticism? One report indicated he may have been out of shape in pre-draft workouts.
"I never did hear that. I don't know what the reason is," Pierce said.
Pitino was sure of one thing: "He'll be in shape for us."
"We're a center away from being a really strong basketball team down the road," Pitino said after his second draft as coach of the Celtics.
The first one didn't start out very well. They had the best odds to get the first pick last season but ended up with the No. 3 choice in the draft lottery, plus the No. 6 pick obtained in a trade.
"We were a little unlucky last year," Pitino said. "We were very lucky this year."
The Celtics improved from 15 wins in 1996-97, M.L. Carr's last season as coach, to 36 last season. They should improve on that if Pierce can win a starting spot, which would allow forwards Walter McCarty and Popeye Jones, a strong rebounder, to come off the bench.
"They have a lot of young talent there. It's a good mix," Pierce said. "They really improved last season. ... The team can get better and better each year."
Pierce was the Celtics' only pick since they sent their second-rounder, the 38th pick overall, to New York.
Pitino thought he had a shot at Pierce when Sacramento sprang the first big surprise of the draft by choosing point guard Jason Williams of Florida at No. 7. Pitino thought Philadelphia might take Pierce with the eighth pick, but the 76ers went for shooting guard Larry Hughes of St. Louis.
And Pitino knew Milwaukee, picking ninth, wanted a big man. The Bucks took 6-foot-11 Dirk Nowitzki, who Pitino would have taken had Milwaukee chosen Pierce.
That made Pitino a very happy man.
"Jason Williams made it all go for us. They [the Kings] needed a point guard," Pitino said. "To be honest with you, I'm really in shock."
Pierce, who worked out only for the teams with the top five picks, also was surprised.
"I was sitting there wondering where would I end up. I just wanted to be in a good situation. I'm just happy Boston is giving me this opportunity," he said.
Not as happy as Pitino is to give it to him.
"This young man is exactly what we need. He's a scorer," Pitino said. "I'm going to sleep with a big smile on my face."
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