By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com Follow @JCameratoNBA
The 12-year-old could play. So well, in fact, that the coaches from East Chicago High School in Indiana had been watching him since he was in the sixth grade, eagerly awaiting the day until he could suit up for their basketball team. There was no doubt ETwaun Moore was talented.
Two hundred miles south in Franklin, coaches there werent as sure about another 12-year-old. JaJuan Johnson was lanky and reserved, but his length was intriguing. Seeing potential in his height, they kept him on the team, a decision that would pay off ten years later.
Johnson and Moores early basketball careers started out differently, but after playing four years together on the Purdue University mens basketball team, they are embarking on the same journey after joining the Boston Celtics in the 2011 NBA Draft.
The fact he was tall saved him.
The text message came across Mark James phone: Im going to be a Celtic.
Looking back on the first time they met, the former Franklin Central High School basketball coach had no idea he would one day read those words from JaJuan Johnson.
I saw a kid that was 12, very shy. We saw an upside because of his length and he could run and catch, but man, we had no clue, James recalled to CSNNE.com in a telephone interview. He came to camp, was a real skinny boy, and they almost cut him in the seventh grade. The fact he was tall saved him.
James watched Johnson progress during basketball camps throughout middle school, become a starter on the ninth-grade team, and go on to start for the junior varsity team as a sophomore. Johnson played under James on the varsity team during his final two years in high school.
We saw him grow up as a basketball player, said James, now the head coach at Ben Davis High School (IN). He never played AAU basketball and he didnt have many bad habits, just a lot of innate ability to play the game when he came into middle school.
James recognized Johnsons potential and wanted to help him become the best player he could be. There was no hand-holding, no gushing over each basket for the player who would grow into a 6-foot-10, 221-pound power forward.
James pushed Johnson to succeed, and in turn, Johnson pushed himself. His self-motivation would eventually bolster his game and catch the attention of the Celtics, who acquired his draft rights at the 27th pick through a trade with the New Jersey Nets in exchange for 25th overall pick Marshon Brooks and the Nets' 2014 second-round pick.
With JaJuan, it was never, Youre a good basketball player or a great basketball player, James said. It was always, You need to work hard, be competitive, do the best you can, have a positive attitude, control the things you can.
With kids now talking about how good they are, I think they hear that now from everyone else, so my thing always with him was, he had to work hard, be humble, and just compete and not compare himself to anyone. I think he learned those lessons very well.
When the gyms opened at 6:30 a.m. before the school day began, Johnson was there, ready to work. And when James had advice to offer, Johnson was there ready to listen.
James considers Johnson a real joy to be around and says players like that dont come around every day.
Hes a very coachable young man, James said. He always liked to learn, very likeable and teachable kid. A lot of kids, when you try to teach them things they take it as criticism and dont respond well to it. Hes just the opposite. He wants to do better with everything he does. When you talk to him about things, hell listen, hell take time to do it the way you want it done. Hes a pleaser kid and those kids are hard to come by for coaches. I think the Celtics will like him a lot because of that.
Over the course of his high school career, Johnson became stronger, improved his ability to run, capitalized on his athleticism, and worked on his mid-range jumper.
Always grounded, Johnson focused on making improvements. As a senior, he was named to the Indiana All-Star Team and averaged 20.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 4.3 blocks per game in his final year.
Toward the end of his sophomore year going into his junior year, it became evident he was going to become a big-time college player, he said. Then I think at the end of his senior year in high school, he was starting to understand just how good maybe he could be.
Johnson went on to play at Purdue University, where he earned several accolades, including Big Ten Player of the Year, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Consensus First-Team All-American, and Pete Newell National Big Man of the Year, following a 20.5 point, 8.6 rebound, 2.3 block per game senior campaign.
The tall, lanky kid who was almost cut from his seventh grade team had established himself as a talented big man ready to contribute in the NBA.
Its sort of been like the ugly duckling story, James said with a laugh. I bet if youd ask him, hed still say youd have to pinch him. This has been something he focused in on a lot in college. . . . Hes a product of hard work, great attitude, and great effort on his part.
I could tell he was going to go places back then.
Growing up there was no way for ETwaun Moore to know that on June 23, 2011, he would be drafted 55th overall by the Celtics. Abe Brown, though, had a feeling the day would come when Moore would hear NBA commissioner David Stern call his name.
Like most seventh- or eighth-graders, he had his eyes wide open, just wondering what was next for him. I dont think at that time he realized where he would be on that day," Brown, head coach of the East Chicago High School basketball team, told CSNNE.com in a telephone interview. I dont know about the Celtics, but I would have said he would be drafted. I could tell he was going to go places back then.
Brown was the high schools junior varsity coach when he met Moore as a seventh-grader. Then-varsity head coach Bobby Miles had begun watching him play the previous year, and Brown could see why.
Moore demonstrated a high basketball IQ and maturity at a young age with a skill set to match. He played against older students in the summertime, holding his own on the court. Moore, now a 6-4, 192-lb shooting guard, showed early promise.
He just went out and played hard, Brown recalled. His basketball IQ has always been high and at that point for a seventh grader, he probably had the basketball IQ of a tenth or eleventh grader with some of the things he was able to do out on the basketball court. It just was like when he went out and played, everything came naturally. There were things he needed coaching for, but there were a lot of things he was just able to go out and do on his own, I guess from his days of going out to the playground playing with the older kids.
Brown added, Not only is his basketball IQ high, his IQ overall in life I think is very high.
By the time Moore entered high school, he made the varsity team in his freshman season. In spite of the early promotion, Moore stayed grounded and focused on helping his teammates win. Brown, who also assisted on the squads varsity staff, says a strong family support system helped to instill a team-first mentality.
So when it came time to take the court, he didnt put on the ETwaun Moore Show, but he still got the job done. Moore averaged 21.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in his senior season and was named to the 2007 Indiana State All-Star Team.
Hes got a real calm demeanor, Brown said. Hes not going to be very flashy. Hes going to score on your opponent and you wont even realize because hes not the kind of guy to pump his chest, throw his hands in the air to the crowd. Hes a silent assassin, I would call him. Hes going to go out and do everything you need him to do and beyond.
Moore gave the Cardinals all he had and then some when he scored 28 points to lead his team to the 2007 4A State Championship, defeating North Central High School and future Los Angeles Clipper Eric Gordon. He earned the Arthur L. Trester Award for Mental Attitude in the win.
That day, Brown says, he saw something special in Moore.
The day of the state championship game, we were in the hotel and he got all the guys together right before the coaches addressed them, Brown said, He was like, Guys, weve just got to go out there and take care of business. This is what weve worked all our lives for. That was one of the first times I saw a real fire in his eyes and he spoke up to the team, like weve got to go out there and take care of things. He went out there and helped win our school our first state championship.
Following winning the high school title, Moore played four years of college basketball at Purdue University. He averaged 18.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in his senior year. Among his accolades, he won the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award and became the second player from Purdue to be named All-Big Ten four times.
He has always been a leader, a stand-up kid, always on time, never had any problems out of him. Brown said. He always came in and played his hardest, did everything he was supposed to do and then some. He is deserving of what he got, going to the NBA.
It was only fitting that Moore carried himself with the same composure on draft night that he has on the court his whole life. Brown was with Moore and his family and friends as they watched more than 50 players get selected. Moore, though, didnt show any nerves as the picks began to run out.
He was just sitting in front of the TV, Brown recalled. Some people that were there were getting down when it was getting close to the end and he hadnt got drafted, but he sat there calm cool and collected like he wasnt worried, like he was going to overcome it and something good was going to happen. Then when he finally got the call before they announced it, he actually didnt say anything but people could tell he was about to get drafted. He kind of whispered to his sister, Im going to Boston, and she jumped up and hollered and everybody knew he was going to get drafted from that.
After watching Moore give consistent dedication, hard work, and selflessness over the last 10 years, Brown believes Moore will bring the same qualities to the Celtics organization and community and represent them well.
Brown always had a feeling this day would come for Moore, and he is proud to see it is happening with such a historic team.
Its just amazing when you think of Boston and you know ETwaun will have that green and white on, Brown said. Its going to be something special to see.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.com!JCamerato