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Boston Celtics celtics Leadership in focus as Celtics head to Summer League Pressey shooting edit
(Photo/Pat Bradley/Mill City Sports)

WALTHAM, Mass. – Phil Pressey was one of the first players out shooting before practice, though it came as no surprise to anyone. After all, being a second-year player on the Celtics Summer League roster makes him a veteran.

For a team full of rookies and undrafted free agents hoping to prove themselves, it’s a nice example. Pressey was one of those guys last summer, and with a non-guaranteed contract his dedication to the gym isn’t so much an option as it is a necessity.

Pressey ran through drills, not pausing to notice anyone else filling the gym:  floaters to free throws, contested layups to three-point shots. There was a determination in Pressey, who looks to be more fit than a season ago.

“Phil is as hard of a worker as we have on our team,” says coach Brad Stevens, who will attend Summer League but leave coaching duties to lead assistant Jay Larranaga. “I think he sets the bar for most everyone else with regard to how often he’s in the gym, how much he’s worked on his game. That really shows itself, and that’s a great thing when all these young guys come in to know a guy’s coming back at 10:30 at night. You know – ‘Are you going with him?’ Those types of things.”

Pressey isn’t the only one working hard. Rookie Marcus Smart, who joined Pressey later in the shooting drills, has “definitely” already felt like a leader on the court.

“I’ve grown up feeling like a leader,” he said. “These guys embrace it and they’ve allowed me to be a leader, so it’s starting to get easier for me.”

Does he think that role will be more challenging when veterans like Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, or Brandon Bass are with the team?

“I don’t think it’ll be much of a challenge. When those guys come around – with them being veterans – they can help me even more.”

Larranaga is impressed by Smart already.

“First thing you notice right away is what a competitor he is and the level of intensity he brings offensively, defensively,” he said. “I think we’re very lucky. We saw leadership in [ex-Celtics] Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and they led by example more than anything else. And the example Marcus has set – he’s a young player, but he plays hard, he values defense, he values team play. You have to lead by example before you do anything else. He’s been a lot of fun to work with.”

Seven-footer Kelly Olynyk will play a second year on the summer squad, and 6-9 power forward Jared Sullinger has joined the Celtics’ two-a-day practices all week. They’re singing the same tune in terms of leadership development.

“It’s leading by example first off,” Larranaga added. “And they’ve both committed to – not only this week but over the summer – they’ve spent a lot of time in the gym working on their games, so they’re off to a good start.”

Stevens on Monday mentioned the importance of Summer League for coaches to get a real feel of what a player is made of. With that in mind, is there a different focus or set of goals for returning players?

“No. I think the new guys are just trying to get everything down,” Stevens said. “Those [returning] guys are trying to continue to enhance their play within the system and within their role and getting better within that role, hopefully expanding that role. The thing about all of our young guys is they’ve worked, and they work at a great pace. That’s the really good part when you talk about it being a year in and the continuity of all being together.”

Those role players include Pressey and  fellow non-guaranteed contract players Chris Babb and Chris Johnson, all of whom are earning high remarks from the coaching staff.

“All of those guys have improved in every area,” Larranaga said. “They are three very, very hard workers. They’re guys who raise the level of energy in the gym every time they’re in the gym, and they’re in the gym a lot. They like being in the gym, and playing basketball, and working on their games. All three are very good defensive players. It’s a lot about effort, it’s a lot about unselfishness. And they’re all three very hard-nosed players.

“It’s a process for every player to continue to try and get better. The guys that don’t think they need to get better will struggle – at whatever point that is in their career. I don’t think the approach Kelly has should be any different than the approach the rookies have or guys that have played professionally in Europe have had. It’s about trying to get better today, and try and prepare to be better tomorrow and I think they’ve all done a good job of that.”

For more Celtics coverage including pictures and videos from practice, follow Pat on Twitter at @PatBradleyUSCHO