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Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett’s guide to being a Celtic

01.05.12 at 11:30 am ET
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I don’t know much about Kevin Garnett, but I do know this: If you haven’t earned his respect, your name won’t cross his lips. “You’re a nobody.” As Celtics rookie JaJuan Johnson said during the first week of training camp, he wasn’t sure if KG even knew his name. The future Hall of Famer only referred to him as “New” or “Rook.”

Conversely, if Garnett mentions you by name, you’re doing something right. In recent days, young Celtics Greg Stiemsma and Avery Bradley in particular have earned postgame praise from the 16-year veteran.

“I think what you’re seeing is opportunity for the young guys, starting with Greg, and now Avery’s getting a chance to play and taking advantage of it,” Garnett said after totaling 14 points and 12 boards in the C’s 89-70 trimming of the Nets. “I don’t root for young guys a lot, especially when they’re hard-headed and don’t like to listen. We’ve got a good group of guys here, and that includes our young guys. They’re a young group, full of enthusiasm, full of hope and promise and a lot of potential, but they’re good guys, and they work really, really hard.”

It’s no secret hard work goes a long way in Garnett’s book, and we all know KG is going to talk. All they have to do is listen to that team pitch he, his fellow Celtics veterans and coach Doc Rivers are selling, buy in and apply it.

“There are no I’s. There are no You’s. It’s a We. It’s an Our. It’s a They. It’s an Us,” said Garnett. “The first thing you have to have in here is that you have to understand what you’re coming into, understand that being a Celtic is bigger than anybody in this locker room. You’re carrying on tradition. You have to have a work ethic. You have to care about the next guy beside you. If you can’t and if you don’t, then you’re not here. It’s the culture here.”

It’s that simple?

Kevin Garnett enjoys "Gino" on the Jumbotron after the Celtics' most complete defensive effort. (AP)

“It’s the only thing,” he added. “It’s a Doc Rivers thing. It’s a Celtics thing. It’s a Boston thing. You should know this.”

Last season, without mentioning any names of course, Garnett suggested he could preach all he wanted to the Mikki Moores or Patrick O’Bryants of the world, if they don’t apply what he’s teaching them, then why bother?

“We’ve got a leader in KG,” said Brandon Bass, who recorded his second double-double and sixth double-digit scoring output in seven nights. “What he does is he talks a lot, and I think everybody is feeding off of that. I’m super laid back. I don’t really say much, but I’ve gotta talk more, and I think KG is doing a great job of leading.”

“Brandon’s efficient,” added Garnett. “He knows his game, and he doesn’t come out of that. He’s playing with a group of guys who are rooting for him. I don’t think he’s ever been rooted for like this. We sort of praise each other, but at the same time we push each other, and he’s no different from that. He’s falling into being a Celtic.”

And the more the young Celtics are willing to listen, the more Garnett is willing to help.

“It’s not your responsibility to go put yourself on the front line and say, ‘Hey, I’m here to help you, here to teach you,’ but if the team is going to be anything, you go outside your box and you make yourself accessible to all the guys, and I have no problem doing that,” said KG. “It’s not necessarily my cup of tea, but if a guy needs some extra help with something, then I’ll always make myself available.”

There’s no question the atmosphere in the Celtics locker room is different this season from last. Training camp came and went without a Delonte West-Von Wafer fiasco. The constant commotion that was Glen Davis and Nate Robinson has been replaced with veteran voice Keyon Dooling, the unassuming nature of Bass and Chris Wilcox, and the quiet willingness to learn from sponge-like students Bradley and Stiemsma.

Just listen to Bradley. “I don’t really feel any pressure, because I can tell how much confidence not only Doc but my teammates have in me,” he said after his breakthrough night. “I’m ready to take that challenge, because in practice every day I hold Ray Allen. So, one thing me and Ray always joke about is if I can hold Ray, I can hold anybody. I’m just going to continue to get better every single day and go hard all the time.”

That’s what Garnett likes to hear. Same with this from Stiemsma: “I’m trying to absorb what I can from [Garnett], and he’s been more than willing to help, too. It’s been great on his part.”

It’s that absorption that’s the key. A lot of guys listen to Garnett. Not everybody can apply it.

“I’ve always told y’all with young guys who are open to elderly advice, [Stiemsma] is one of our young guys who absorbs everything,” said Garnett. “We have some pretty good guys here. … Knowing that some of the big guys can apply some knowledge that you teach them or show them, that’s the difference.”

For the second straight night, the Celtics benefited from an unexpected contribution. One game after Stiemsma totaled 13 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks in his first career start, Bradley recorded 11 points, two assists, two steals and his first career 3-pointer in a superb effort on both ends of the court.

“They’re getting the opportunity to go out and play, and it’s all about what they do with the opportunity, so I’m glad to see those guys prosper from the opportunity,” KG said. “We’ll keep a foot in their ass, but they work really hard.”

All this isn’t to say Garnett knows everything there is to know about being a Celtic. Rivers reminds him of that.

“I do a number of things,” explained Garnett. “Ray shoots 3s. Paul [Pierce] is our leader. He scores the basketball. I’m one of those X-factors that if you need me to score, I can score, if you need me to play defense, I can play defense. I’m like the glue here. If you need an extra pass, that’s what it is.

“Doc’s got this much foot in my ass right now,” he added, hands held a foot apart, “because I’m not shooting the ball, but it is what it is. I consider myself like the X-factor. Whatever you need me to do, I’m gonna do.”

It’s not “Do as I say, not as I do” with Garnett. It’s a way of life that’s become in recent years the Celtics way. And who knows, maybe Garnett will embrace this role as “elderly” adviser and stick around a few more years.

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Brandon Bass, Doc Rivers
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