Greg Stiemsma: when the student is already teaching

“Learning isn’t a means to an end; it is an end in itself.”
Robert Heinlein

There was a time when Stiemsma couldn't even make his way out of his room. Everything was a test, the pressure of representing a town and a state was too much to bear. At a young age he almost gave up all hope to become a proven player. Coming from a small environment and being thrown out into a university program in which the whole state has an eye on you was something Greg wasn't used to. Always a low profile character despite his otherwise noticeable nature -being a seven footer must be tough to be desguised- he was exposed to public view when he was likely not ready. Yet.

“Coming from a town of 1,500 people, it was huge,“ said the 6-11 center. “Everybody’s Badger fans. For them to have one of their little boys go to the big city, it was a big thing. So there were a lot of people looking up to me and still now. I think, to a kind of negative, all that weight was on my shoulders too. At times it gets overwhelming. But at the same time, if I can be happy with what I’m doing in myself, they can get on board with that too.”

After his name wasn't called in the NBA draft ceremony among other big men such as Roy Hibbert, JaVale McGee and DeAndre Jordan he was determined to prove he was better than other centers like Alexis Ajinca, also selected in that draft. Before joining the Celtics training camp last December his journey covered thousands of miles between Turkey, South Korea, the D League and the USA Pan American Games team. Before even entering the doors of Waltham he earned NBA Development League Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2009-10 with the Sioux Falls Skyforce after he averaged a league leading 3.6 blocks per game and a Bronze Medal with the USA in that tournament.

Then, luck brought him to follow the steps of Semih Erden. Yes, Semih was the last player drafted that year and Stiemsma coincidentally was chosen by the Celtics to fill the void left by Erden after he was absurdly sent to Cleveland in February.

With Jermaine O'Neal finishing his two season stint with the Celtics worth $12 million for a total grand of 49 games and the rest of the centers of the team either retiring (Shaq), leaving for Europe (Krstic), or suffering from season ending injuries (Wilcox), Stiemsma's name was finally called. The day for the biggest test had come.

This time, he was ready.

In his NBA debut he blocked the Hornets six times. By doing that, Greg stormed into the league showing his most distinctive weapon: an awesome timed blocking ability that made him earn high marks by the Celtics nation. Tommy Heinsohn even compared this skill to the one that characterized the great Bill Russell.

Greg fitted Boston perfectly, mainly because his trademark is defense:

When did you first realize that you were particularly skilled on defense?
It started as a little kid. I was blocking a lot of shots when I was young, and it continued when I was older. I got a little bit of athleticism. At an early age, I always used to block my friends’ shots. They would create ways to get around me, and I’d find ways to get them back. I had really good coaches growing up. Offense was kind of secondary for me. Defense was always important, and I kind of took it personal if someone scored on me.

In Boston, Greg has emerged as the perfect backup for KG and Bass. He plays with energy and provides an instant boost from the bench:

Good defense can really spark some good offense. If we can get some stops on the defensive end, that can get our transition game going and it can fire guys up. You get a couple of stops and your guards are a little more willing to put some more pressure on, knowing that they have some help in the back. At times, they can take a few more chances with that. It’s all about give and take and playing together and getting some experience.

Always talking about getting experience, always willing to learn from his surroundings, from his teammates:

“There’s no team I’d rather be playing for, there’s no other situation I’d rather be in than this one right now. I am trying to learn as much as I can from these guys and absorb all the information they have. Hopefully, I’ll keep sticking around for as long as I can.”

Greg, you are already showing you belong to this league, and you have done it by proving to be patient and learning all the way from the bottom to the top. Your personality, your hustle and your will to improve day by day have made you win the hearts of teammates, reporters and fans.

You belong to the Celtic nation, Greg. You passed the test. Now, keep on teaching the league by keeping learning.