NBA: Kevin Garnett welcomes rookies to Celtics with nicknames
Waltham, Mass. • Jared Sullinger is "Sully."
Dionte Christmas is "Temple," because that's where he went to college.
And Kevin Garnett calls Fab Melo "Melo" because "I don't like really calling a man 'Fab.' "
The Boston Celtics rookies are getting nicknames, compliments of the man himself known as "KG" and "The Big Ticket." Garnett went out of his way Friday to make it clear that he's doing it to be affectionate and not because, like many veterans throughout basketball, he can't be troubled to learn their real names.
"My personal connection is a nickname. I'm not disrespecting people by not knowing their names," Garnett said. "Some people don't even talk to rookies."
The Celtics are still loaded with aging veterans, relying heavily on Garnett and Paul Pierce along with new additions Jason Terry and Jason Collins. But the leadership in the process of passing to point guard Rajon Rondo, and this year's crop of rookies could be the most productive since 2004.
Sullinger and Melo were first-round draft picks, with Kris Joseph coming in the second. (Garnett calls Joseph "Shawn," Christmas said, "because he reminds him of someone named Shawn.")
"Most of the time, it's just 'Young'un,' " Sullinger said. "Knowing that he's an NBA dinosaur, you've got to understand that being a 'young'un' is a good thing."
Christmas was a 2009 draft choice of the 76ers who played in Europe the past three seasons and would be happy to be called anything by Garnett once the final roster cuts are made. "For him to recognize me, for him to put an interest in me as a teammate, it's definitely humbling," Christmas said.
Sullinger is enjoying his time with his new mentor, and is trying to soak it all up.
"Being a rookie, you always have to pay homage to the veterans," he said. "You come in, you've got to have a closed mouth and you play basketball."