Celtics rookie Moiso debuts against Spurs 'Twin Towers'

Friday, October 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Kevin McNamara / The Providence (R.I.) Journal

WORCESTER -- Perhaps the best thing about Boston Celtic rookie Jerome Moiso is he isn't like everybody else.

Moiso is a character, but in a good way. Rick Pitino probably won't be fining him for staying out all night or finding trouble with the police. He's quick with a warm smile and a hearty laugh and the French accent he speaks with is a bit disarming coming from a 7-footer.

Most refreshing is that he's not anything like the tough, often spoiled, American basketball star. He responds to questions from reporters with a smile, not a snarl. He's actually naive about the trappings of the NBA lifestyle. Consider this exchange between the Celts' rookie and Leo Papile, the team's scouting director.

"Leo said to him 'you could be the best rookie in this league with your talent,' " Pitino said last night. "He said 'no, there's 10 better guys in front of me.' Leo asked why he'd say that and he said 'because I was drafted 11th.' "

Then Papile told Moiso the league holds a rookie game at the midseason all-star game. Told he should strive to play in the game, Moiso said, "No, I'd rather go home.' "

Pitino laughed and said, "I don't think Jerome has a very large ego. I think he's quite normal. I don't know if that's good or bad."

Last night at the Worcester Centrum, Moiso made his professional basketball debut in Boston's 100-80 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. He couldn't have picked a tougher scenario. First of all, the last few days of his life have been a whirlwind. On Tuesday, he flew to Barbados to pick up a work visa. His student visa expired once he left UCLA and he never got around to securing his work papers. He says his teammates only rolled their eyes when they found out the rookie would be leaving training camp for an exotic locale.

"They were thinking about me being on vacation, getting a tan while they were in two-a-days practice," he said.

Moiso returned home late Wednesday night and played last night. The Celtics' opponents? Only San Antonio, and its two future Hall of Fame big men David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Moiso grew up in Paris and Guadeloupe and didn't have posters of NBA stars on his walls. But he did know of Robinson.

"One of the first guys I read about as a kid was David Robinson," he said. "Tonight, I talked to him at the free throw line. Now it's about getting ready to play against him, not just say 'that's the guy I used to read about.' "

Moiso played just two seasons at UCLA but it's easy to see why the Celtics are so high on him. Although he's physically weak and not a low post offensive threat yet, he is already the team's best shot-blocker and is a very good defensive rebounder. Last night, he rarely matched up with either Duncan or Robinson. Instead, he handled the ball at the high post on offense and shadowed someone else on defense. He finished with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks in 24 minutes.

"I played OK," he said. "It wasn't the greatest game I could've had but I defended myself all right."

Asked about his shotblocking skills, Moiso said, "That's one thing I can do. I just need a defensive mind every game."

Surprisingly, the Spurs did not eat up the Celtic big men. Robinson (17 minutes, 10 points) played sparingly and Duncan (25 minutes, 11 points) wasn't involved much in the offense. For the second straight night, the Celtics allowed their opponent to shoot over 50 percent (54 percent) from the field and the Spur perimeter players easily out-played the Celtics. Antoine Walker led the Celts with 22 points, 20 in the first half.

Pitino clearly likes Moiso's talent. He said he's pleasantly suprised by Moiso's shooting touch from 15 feet and it's clear he's more active than veteran Tony Battie. If Moiso progresses quickly, he could steal minutes away from both Battie and Walter McCarty.

"He's a very gifted young man. As far as physical talent he's as good as it gets," Pitino said. "The problem is he has not learned much defensively as far as professional defense. He's not going to stop his man from catching the ball or clear people out in the post. Those are things he needs to learn to play at this level."