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Sports >  National sports

Ex-Washington State star Aron Baynes gives Celtics toughness, big personality

Aron Baynes has played a pivotal role for the Celtics this season. (Associated Press)
Aron Baynes has played a pivotal role for the Celtics this season. (Associated Press)
By Stephen Hunt For The Spokesman-Review

DALLAS – When the Boston Celtics signed Aron Baynes in July, they expected the former Washington State University big man to add size and toughness to their squad.

Baynes, 30, has brought plenty of both, but Celtics head coach Brad Stevens also likes something else about the sixth-year center.

“He has a great, loud, vibrant personality,” Stevens said. “He is in the gym and you know he’s in the gym. When he’s in the weight room, you know he’s there. He is taking guys out to dinner. He’s found a favorite restaurant in every town. He just has a great way about him. He’s been a very, very good addition.”

Through 18 games, the ex-Cougar is averaging 5.5 rebounds and 5.4 points per game. On Monday night, the Celtics were in Dallas and defeated the Mavericks 110-102 in overtime, Boston’s 16th consecutive win, the Celtics’ longest run of undefeated basketball since 1965.

But Baynes downplayed the magnitude of that streak.

“I’m not too sure (if he’s been on a team that’s won 16 in a row),” he said. “I don’t think we’re too focused on that. Like coach said, there’s still so much we can do a lot better and that’s what we’re trying to focus on. It’s always good to be winning and we’ll definitely take it, but there’s still a lot of room for growth with this group.”

One aspect of facing Dallas he did discuss was facing Mavericks franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki, a former NBA and Finals MVP considered the best international player in NBA history, and someone he grew up idolizing.

“It’s amazing,” Baynes said. “Someone who can maintain that level of competition and stay that great for so long, it’s a testament to him. He has opened up the door for a lot of international players. The game’s changed since he first came into it to today, and he’s definitely a big reason for it. It’s always good to get out there and be able to compete against someone that you’ve looked up to from when you first started playing.”

Baynes and Boston have been a great fit, and one reason is that he’s enjoyed playing for Stevens. His Celtics coach joins San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich (Baynes’ first three seasons) and Stan Van Gundy (the past two seasons in Detroit) as successful head coaches for whom he’s played.

“Yeah, I’ve definitely enjoyed playing for Brad. He’s a great coach,” Baynes said. “I’ve been lucky to be under three great coaches in my time in the NBA. Every single one of them has forgotten more than I’ll ever know, so I’m just trying to soak up as much knowledge as I can. Brad’s really good at getting us to be students of the game. He really encourages us to watch film. I’m very thankful to be here.”

Another positive of playing for Stevens is that he and his staff excel at putting players into the best positions to succeed, the mark of any great coach.

Baynes’ big personality and fun-loving demeanor have helped make him an immediate hit in the Boston locker room, but Celtics guard Marcus Smart also respects his new teammate for what he can do on the court.

“(He brings) toughness and a guy that can protect the rim,” Smart said. “He’s one of the best guys in the league at going straight up, (using) his (vertical jumping) and making guys finish over him. He has a strong body, so he can also bang with big guys down there. He’s a tremendous part of our team.”

Baynes was in Pullman between 2005-09. He then played several seasons in Europe before landing with the Spurs as an undrafted free agent and making his NBA debut in 2013.

Even though he’s now in his sixth year in the NBA, WSU remains a source of fond memories.

“I enjoyed my time while I was there,” Baynes said. “I’ve still got some great relationships from my time there. I take that as it is, just thankful for where I am now in my career.”

In his second season, the Spurs won the 2014 NBA championship. Although Baynes is one of a handful of Celtics who has won a title, he doesn’t live in the past with San Antonio. He’s focused on winning another ring with the Celtics.

“I honestly don’t even think about it,” Baynes said. “I enjoy the memories more so than the physical presence of it. I’m super thankful for the time there. It’s definitely a highlight of my career.

“That’s something I’m working toward, trying to get another one, that’s what it’s all about every day. I think about the memories of it and I think about right now what it took on a daily basis for the team to get there and that’s what we’re trying to emulate here.”

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.

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