Boston Celtics rookie guard Payton Pritchard played himself into a significant role in his first year in the league. He appeared in 66 games during the 2020-21 regular season, while averaging 7.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and two assists in 19 minutes a game. He also averaged over 13 minutes in all five of Boston's playoff games in the first round against the Brooklyn Nets. Although he missed the All-Rookie team this season, that says more about the depth of talent in the 2020 draft class, and Pritchard still received 20 votes.
He may not be regarded as one of the top young players from his draft class, but Pritchard is used to betting on himself and proving people wrong, something he reflected upon on CBS Sports' "Draft Day Memories: Presented By Jeep."
"Whenever the right opportunity was to go to the pros I was going to go, and I had the opportunity to go after my junior year," Pritchard said. "I had a couple deals on the table, but ultimately knowing that I could come back and up my stock and get picked higher, so I came back, bet on myself and it worked out."
After a senior year at the University of Oregon where he posted 20.5 points, 5.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and shot 41.5 percent from deep, Pritchard finally heard his name called when the Celtics took him with the 26th pick in the first round.
"The draft process -- we're in the living room and everything was set up with the cameras and you start to get a little nervous because each pick keeps going and you're like, 'oh boy,'" Pritchard said. "I actually had to go upstairs because I couldn't be around everybody. My agent called me and he was like 'you're gonna be a Celtic.' I just remember going downstairs and looked at my dad and was like, 'it's happening.'"
Pritchard was thrown immediately into the fire in a sense, as Boston's All-Star point guard Kemba Walker was sidelined to start the season. In his eighth game of the season, Pritchard recorded his first 20-point game when he totaled 23 points, on top of eight assists and two boards. That early-season success earned him a regular spot in the rotation, and even got to start a few games when Boston needed him.
But while Pritchard looked like a seasoned veteran from the start of the season, he was still awestruck by playing against some of his childhood idols.
"Matching up with a lot of players that I looked up to like Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry -- guys you can just say something to real quick and learn something new -- it's just crazy that you go from looking up to them your whole life then you're out there playing against them," Pritchard said.
Now that the former Oregon product has made it to the league, something he credits to his dad for pushing him toward while growing up, he's not satisfied just yet.
"Once I felt that success, I wanted more of it," Pritchard said. "So now, I'm not OK with just being in the league. I want to become somebody, a champion. I just want more."