It was almost like the scene from the movie “Forrest Gump,” when Tom Hanks and Mykelti Williamson, who played Bubba, simultaneously answered questions from their drill sergeant even though they barely knew each other.
Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard were selected in the first round of last week’s NBA Draft by the Celtics, and there were times Tuesday afternoon when they nearly completed each other’s sentences as they addressed the media in a Zoom call.
The two have been in Boston the past few days, sort of like boot camp, and are vigorously trying to learn the NBA game and life as training camp quickly approaches. Because of the pandemic, this rookie class was denied a summer league and the 2½-month period that follows and allows rookies to prepare for the long season.
Less than a month from now, Nesmith and Pritchard will be suiting up for their first NBA games, so the learning process could be overwhelming. But the Celtics may need both Nesmith, a small forward from Vanderbilt, and Pritchard, a combo guard from Oregon, to contribute right away.
“It’s like great expectations,” Nesmith said. “It’s nothing different than Payton or I haven’t gone through. It’s just continuing to come in and working as hard as you can, be a sponge. We don’t know what’s going to happen next season so just continue to do whatever is asked of us.”
Nesmith is the projected shooter the Celtics have been seeking for years. He was drafted 14th overall, on need, by a franchise that lacked scoring off the bench. Pritchard, picked at No. 26, played four seasons for the Ducks, blossoming into the Pac-12 player of the year. He averaged 20.5 points and shot 41.5 percent from the 3-point line as a senior.
Pritchard went through the draft process after his junior season, but the West Linn, Ore., native decided to return to college after he was projected as a second-round pick.
“Coming back for my senior year definitely made a big difference,” he said. “I went through the draft process and took some feedback and worked on my game, mentally and physically prepared for my senior year.”
Nesmith was the Southeastern Conference’s leading scorer when he was felled by a stress fracture in his right foot. He missed the final two months of the Commodores’ season but is healthy and will participate in training camp. Some NBA teams were concerned with how the injury was healing. It has been 10 months since Nesmith received his diagnosis.
“I’ll be good to go; I’ve done everything so far workout-wise,” Nesmith said. “It’s 100 percent and I won’t miss a beat.”
He played his sophomore season under the tutelage of former NBA All-Star Jerry Stackhouse, who gave Nesmith beaming endorsements after he entered the draft.
“It was monumental being able to play for a guy like coach Stackhouse, an 18-year NBA veteran,” Nesmith said. “He’s done everything at this level a lot of young guys coming into the league want to achieve. So being able to have that blueprint and being able to learn from a guy like that for a year and learn his tendencies helped me big time.”
Nesmith does not lack confidence. He called himself a “sniper” on draft night because of his ability to drain 3-point shots. He shot a stellar 52.2 percent from the 3-point line as a sophomore.
“Just the body of work. The repetition. For me nothing changes,” he said when asked about the self evaluation. “My warm-up doesn’t change. My form doesn’t change. My footwork doesn’t change. As long as I continue to work on those things and continue to perfect those attributes to my games, there’s no reason for my shot not to translate from one level to the next.”