CANTON, Mass. — Kemba Walker won’t play a game for the Boston Celtics for at least another six days, but he’s already impressing his new coworkers.
Walker isn’t a total stranger to a handful of his Celtics teammates, having spent the summer with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart on Team USA. Lately, he’s also been at the team’s facility in Brighton working out, so others have increasingly been getting familiar with the new face of the franchise.
During Monday’s media day, the reviews on Walker were positive.
“Me, Jayson and Jaylen had the opportunity to play with him and kind of get to know him a little bit more than these other guys,” Smart said. “Kemba’s a great guy, and I like that he’s a little guy, just like every other little guy he’s feisty, he has a little tenacity to him, so you love being able to talk to a guy like that and get to play with a guy like that. I think these younger guys are really going to love Kemba a lot.”
“I enjoyed playing with him,” Tatum said. “We spent quite a bit of time on the floor together, and he’s as good as advertised. He’s a great person, spent a lot of time together over there doing team meals, tourist things and playing video games. It was like a bit AAU trip.”
Second-round pick Tremont Waters has a unique connection to Walker.
Waters is from Connecticut and grew up watching Walker at UConn, following him during his Charlotte Hornets days as well. Going from a kid idolizing Walker to now being his teammate, it’s clear Waters is ready to learn everything he can from his fellow guard.
“Growing up obviously I watched a lot of Kemba film, him playing at UConn, and I watched a ton of games live,” Waters said. “I actually have a picture of Kemba and I standing next to each other, I was probably 9-, 10-years-old, cheesing ear to ear. But now I’m able to learn from him on a day-to-day basis in practice, watch him in game and hopefully at some point play alongside of him and just learning what he’s learned over the past few years in the NBA.”
When Kyrie Irving came to the Celtics, he often harped on being a leader. The reality became that Irving really is not that great of a leader, but felt compelled to be one since he was the best player on the team.
It’s clear a lesson was learned on the Celtics, as Smart, arguably Boston’s top leader, was quick to acknowledge that Walker has to earn the distinction of a leader.
“He definitely does (have to earn that leader title),” Smart said. “And that’s one thing about Kemba, his whole life, just like every last one of us here, we always had to fight to get where we are and get where we’re going. And when you have a competitor and a guy like that who’s willing to come here and know that and not just come in here thinking he deserves to (be the leader) because he was an All-Star and all that stuff, that just helps these younger guys and myself included because we see that and it makes us want to go out there and give everything we have”
Gordon Hayward is plenty familiar with Walker, having played against him for years now, and he gave a fairly thorough scouting report on Boston’s new addition.
“He’s definitely a game-changer, and I think that the pace he plays at changes games,” Hayward said. “Certainly one of the quickest guys in the league with the ball in his hands and he seems to be able to find a seam in any defense. So not only for himself, I think he plays for himself once he gets in there, but also he plays for the team. It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to, and I think he’s a great guy too so he’ll help us with the leadership too.”
However, not all the reviews on Walker necessarily are positive.
Brad Wanamaker, whose Pittsburgh team was eliminated from the 2011 Big East Tournament because of a now-famous Walker stepback jumper, set a ground rule pretty quick.
“We don’t talk about that,” Wanamaker joked.
Other than that though, Walker’s received nothing but praise.