NEW YORK — Some people might have wondered what was going through Phil Pressey’s head during last year’s NBA draft.
After the Missouri junior point guard gave up his final year of eligibility to turn pro, the 5-foot-11 Dallas native went undrafted the night of June 27, 2013, leaving many basketball fans to wonder if “Flip” made the right decision.
“I was just frustrated because I knew I had a chance to be drafted,” Pressey said March 21 during shoot-around before the Celtics fell 114-98 to the Brooklyn Nets.
But after joining Boston as an undrafted free agent, Pressey said going undrafted was by far the best thing that could have happened to him. He would even go so far as to suggest it.
“After the 45th pick, it’s almost like you want to go undrafted because you never know what the team is going to do with you when they have your rights,” Pressey said. “So unless you’re 100 percent (sure that) the team is going to keep you, you might want to go undrafted so that you don’t end up overseas or getting sent to the D-League.”
Pressey’s seen plenty of examples of draft picks getting sent around, none more than former Missouri center Alex Oriakhi, one of Pressey’s best friends since high school. Oriakhi bounced around Europe for a while with the Suns owning his rights until he wound up in the D-League. Oriakhi was taken 57th overall by the Suns in June. He said he’s proud of how his friend has handled the NBA life so far.
“I talk to Phil just about every day,” Oriakhi said. “I watched the preseason game where he helped the Celtics come back against the Knicks, and I was screaming the whole time. I’m happy for the kid because he was undrafted, works extremely hard, and he’s where he wants to be. He’s going to be fine as long as he keeps working.”
For a rookie, Pressey has had his fair share of moments despite being a reserve for the Celtics. First-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens relied on Pressey early in the season, giving him a few starts while Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo rehabbed from a knee injury. Even after Rondo returned to the lineup, Stevens still started Pressey when he needed Rondo to rest.
“Phil’s case, it worked out perfectly,” former teammate and current D-League front office official Jarrett Sutton said. “I think the Celtics were always interested in him and knew he would be there if he didn’t get drafted. It’s worked out for him. He’s kind of a rare case.”
Pressey averages 2.4 points and 2.7 assists a game as a backup point guard on a team that is nowhere near where it was when Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce wore the green and white.
Pressey said he’s trying to use this year to learn as much as he can so he’s ready when the Celtics are contenders again in what is expected to be the near future.
“I feel like we have a good mixture of guys right now,” he said. “So far, my season has been great. I’ve been dreaming since I was a little kid to start in an NBA game, and I’ve had great assists games, and I’ve scored my career high. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can this season so I can come back next year even better.”
While Pressey wraps up his rookie season, he’s aware of the anticipation growing back in Columbia on the decisions Missouri junior guards Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown declaring for the NBA draft. Clarkson declared for the draft Monday.
Having been there before, Pressey said the biggest thing for the duo is understand what lies ahead.
“Make sure you’re ready,” Pressey said. “You need to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you’re ready. Don’t just leave because it’s the NBA. I mean, the NBA takes no type of sympathy. If you’re not ready, they’re going to let you know it, and they’re going to send you elsewhere.”