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Sports

January 27, 2008

Big ticket: Focused and ferocious, Garnett carries Celtics to top of NBA

WALTHAM - One after another, they fall through the net like hailstones.



It's 1:45 p.m. on a Thursday; do you know where Kevin Garnett is?



Practice may be over, but he's here, unleashing a storm of jump shots.



With eyes as bright as the polished parquet floor, he's sweating out the pain of the previous night's loss to Toronto by sinking 20-footer after 20-footer.



Oscar Neely, one of Garnett's high school coaches, says the 6-foot-11, 220-pound forward has "Michael Jordan syndrome." He's so focused, so committed, and so intense, it's scary.



"He's a level above everybody," Neely says.



A half-season into Garnett's Celtics career, Neely's statement is ringing true. "The Big Ticket" has pulled a sinking franchise out of the dirt, brushed it off, and restored its sparkle.



"He definitely charges me up. He's so intense," Celtics captain Paul Pierce says. "It's hard to get to the level he gets to. He wants to rip off his own jersey sometimes. But we love him."



The All-Star starter, who has led Boston (34-7) to the best record in the NBA, is averaging 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.



It's no surprise to Neely, a former assistant coach at Mauldin (S.C.) High, where Garnett spent the first three years of his high school career.



"He's an animated character," Neely says. "What you see today, that's how he was as a kid."



Even before he became a schoolboy legend in Chicago, Garnett was a lanky teenager in Greenville County, S.C. Before he could impress NBA scouts, he had to impress Neely and Duke Fisher, Mauldin's head coach.



"In ninth grade, the light switch really hadn't come on yet," Neely says. "But you could just see him, getting ready to explode. Young kids, sometimes, they don't realize what they have."



Still, Fisher saw the potential for greatness.



So during Garnett's freshman season, he called University of North Carolina coach Dean Smith, advising him to come take a look at the 6-foot-6 freshman.



"Send some film," Smith told Fisher.



"I ain't sending no damn film," replied Fisher, who played on UNC's freshman team in the early 1960s. "My word's good enough."



...



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