|Kevin Garnett and "Sully" are getting along just fine. (Getty Images)|
When you think of Kevin Garnett, what comes to mind?
Some people instantly will think of a defensive wizard who can recite the spell book forward and backward. Some think of a larger gentleman who barks at European guards. Maybe you think of a megaphone for expletives on the basketball court.
How many people think of a veteran who mentors rookies? Paul Flannery of WEEI.com discovered Garnett has been showing rookie Jared Sullinger the ropes so far:
“[Garnett] talks a lot and everybody thinks it's in a bad way. It's really in a good way,” Sullinger said. “The intensity, the way he nods his head, the way he moves his body. You know, body language, everybody thinks that's negative but really half his stuff is positive. You got to pay homage to the vets. You come in, you've got a closed mouth and you play basketball. When they start allowing you to come out of your comfort zone, talk, do all that kind of stuff, that's how you develop team chemistry.”
Right away, you can tell these words by Sullinger are not your typical rookie words.
Based on Garnett's career path, it's safe to say he values the efficient use of his time. He was a guy who stayed loyal to the Minnesota Timberwolves for probably longer than he should have. His career was a warning sign for the younger generation of stars like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh: If you stay too long in a situation that isn't an obvious place for title contention, your legacy could end up tarnished.
When he went to Boston in 2007, he immediately was surrounded with the type of environment that he'd always wanted. He had veterans -- and good veterans, at that -- with a coach preaching team unity and working hard. There wasn't any building for the future; there was only building for the next NBA Finals.
When someone like Sullinger comes into his rookie training camp and starts acting like a professional right away, it's only natural for KG to flock toward a mentorship. As unfair as this might seem to people, Garnett probably doesn't have time to focus on teammates who are unable to help him win now. The 36-year-old power forward/center has a biological title clock near its end.
While some people might think of various incidents with KG when it comes to dealing with younger players on his teams (Rick Rickert and Wally Szczerbiak come to mind), it appears he's willing to work with the guys who want to work.
“I do know their names, my personal connection is a nickname,” he said. “So, if I give you a nickname, that's personal for me. Let's clear that [stuff] up. I'm saying I'm not disrespecting somebody by not knowing their names. Some people don't even talk to rookies. I'm very connected with the young guys just off my path and where I come from, so let's clear it up.”
Much of Garnett's lessons are actually non-verbal. He tries to set a tone in practice, not only with his work ethic, but also with his demeanor.
“Usually when you do it yourself, they're actually watching and they mimic everything you do,” Garnett said. “If you're sitting over here bull [bleeping] they tend to bull [bleep.] That's why I don't really talk a lot. I like to be the example. Anything they have after practice that I can help them with, I like to pull them to the side and show them different things. With these young guys, I just try to be there when they need me. I'm not a guy to push myself on anybody. Anything they want to know, anything they're having trouble with, I try to be accessible.”
KG knows names! Anytime that a veteran has to clear up knowing the names of players on his team, you know he's a guy who has a reputation for embracing rookies.
Garnett is clearly attempting to set the tone for his team, and “Sully” appears to be embracing that mentality. We don't know if it will lead to them sharing a stanchion to intimidate before the opening tip or double barking at Jose Calderon when he's bringing the ball up the floor.
For this Celtics team trying to address the depth issues that plagued the roster last season, having Sullinger ready to contribute right away with the tutelage of their team leader will be a boon for them.
And for anybody who was wondering just how serious Jared Sullinger was going to take his professional career, it seems like he's on the correct path.