The legend of Greg Stiemsma, Celtics player at large
|12.22.11 at 10:24 am ET|
As Celtics training camp invitee Greg Stiemsma‘s buckets started to pile up Wednesday night against the Raptors, so too did his potential nicknames. “Stiemroller” or “McStiemy” were just two of the many batted around.
Regardless, one thing is for certain: Stiemsma made a name for himself in Boston, as the Garden crowd grew louder and louder with each of his seven points (3-8 FG), five rebounds and two blocks.
“It was fun,” Stiemsma said of the fan reaction. “It’s fun to have those guys behind you. I know Boston is a great sports town. They love their Celtics. I’m just having fun out there and trying to stick around for as long as I can.”
Indeed, just how long Stiemsma sticks around remains to be seen. The Celtics could make final roster cuts as soon as Thursday, and coach Doc Rivers suggested the C’s would leave the 15th spot open for a potential free agent signing. Draft picks JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore should make the roster out of camp, so that leaves one open spot to be filled by Stiemsma, Gilbert Brown, Michael Sweetney or Jamal Sampson.
“I just hope I showed I belong, that I can play at this level and that I can help this team,” said the 6-foot-11, 260-pound Stiemsma. “Whether it’s three- or four-minute stretches or whatever it may be, in practice, whatever it is, I feel like I can step in and help them out.”
Stiemsma appears to be the leader in the clubhouse among that group, especially after a preseason that included a game-winning tip-in to beat the Raptors in the opener for a total of nine points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes of action. But even he knows nothing is set in stone.
“He played great, which is good,” Rivers said. “It was nice because we played him with some of the starters, which we were trying to do, and you know, he blocked shots, he could run the floor, he can make the shot from the elbow. That was great when he just jacked it, that was what we wanted him to do. So it was a good showing.”
It’s been a rollercoaster ride of a career for Stiemsma to get to this point. A three-time Division 4 state champion as a high school star in Wisconsin, he averaged just 2.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 85 games over four years for his hometown Badgers at the collegiate level.
After leaving his University of Wisconsin team as a junior, Stiemsma went public prior to his senior season with the news that he had been battling depression that nearly rendered him academically ineligible.
“It’s definitely a humbling experience,” he told Sports Illustrated at the time. “I’m not as invincible as I’d like to think I am sometimes. I guess I’m older and wiser now. There have been people who have gone through similar things and haven’t made it. I’m going to be one of the guys that does make it.”
Stiemsma sought counseling and with the help of antidepressants overcame his depression symptoms to post career-highs in points (3.5), rebounds (3.1) and blocks (1.1) as a senior. From there, he played two tours of basketball duty in Turkey, one in South Korea, two stints with the NBA Development League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce and a bronze medal-winning run for USA Basketball at the 2011 Pan American Games.
All the while, Stiemsma built a reputation as an intimidating presence for opposing players trying to navigate the paint, even earning 2009-10 D-League Defensive Player of the Year honors after averaging 9.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and a league-leading 3.7 blocks in 47 games for the Skyforce.
“I was blocking a lot of shots when I was young, and it continued when I was older,” Stiemsma said in a Q&A for USABasketball.com during their run this fall. I got a little bit of athleticism. At an early age, I always used to block my friends’ shots. They would create ways to get around me, and I’d find ways to get them back. I had really good coaches growing up. Offense was kind of secondary for me. Defense was always important, and I kind of took it personal if someone scored on me.”
Stiemsma returned to Sioux Falls in late November, averaging 7.0 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.5 blocks in four games before receiving the invite to Celtics camp after the NBA lockout.
“I felt like I came in and showed what I can do,” Stiemsma said. “This is about as well as I can play at this time. I still feel like there’s a lot of room for improvement, but at the same time, I left everything on the floor and now whatever’s going to happen is going to happen.”
Whether or not that means a spot on the 2011-12 Celtics roster we’ll soon find out. For the record, Stiemsma weighed in on the great nickname debate.
“‘Stiemer’ is kind of my Sioux Falls nickname,” he said. “That’s kind of what I’ve been known as. That’s probably the easiest, because they you don’t have to try to pronounce my name either.”