OREM A quick glance of Utah Flash point guard Gabe Pruitt's stats with the Boston Celtics this year could give the impression that he was too big for his britches in deciding to leave USC a year early.
Of course being the 32nd pick in the 2007 draft by Boston and then relegated to the Flash three times this season wouldn't be the aspirations of most college kids with dollar signs in their eyes looking for a fat, guaranteed two-year NBA contract. But any thoughts of Pruitt regretting his choice to skip his senior year with the Trojans when he's playing in a league where you carry your own bags and share a college-style apartment with a couple of other players is quickly quashed.
"I knew it would be kind of an off-or-on thing," Pruitt said of his back-and-forth shuttling between the Celtics and the Flash.
Pruitt's lack of playing time with Boston gives him the motivation to work hard in Utah. At least with the Flash he is averaging more than 35 minutes a game a far cry from the five minutes he was averaging with the Celtics, with several DNPs not calculated in the total.
"I heard he wasn't even practicing that much there, and I know a lot of games he didn't even dress," said Flash general manager David Fredman.
"It's always good to come down and play games," Pruitt said. "It's something I wanted to do. And I think I have the opportunity to come down and work on my game, and teach me stuff that Boston wants me to do."
The minutes have paid dividends for Pruitt as he is averaging 19 points per game and has led the Flash's scoresheet in several games.
Flash coach Brad Jones can see the improvement Pruitt has made in his game in this recent tour with the team compared to his first time being sent down at the beginning of the season. Jones said it's not his performance in games that can be measured but his approach to the game in general.
"When we've had him back in November to when we've had him now," Jones said. "He's a totally different guy. It's almost now like he understands it's a job and how to be a pro."
Adding to that is Fredman's observation that Pruitt's attitude has changed as the season has progressed.
"It is, but I don't mean to say that it was bad," Fredman said. "But I think he has matured quite a bit."
Part of that has to do with the learning the differences between the pro game and college ball. Also the bar has been set pretty high for Pruitt to earn playing time with the Celtics due to their depth in a year in which they have gone from the cellar to the league's best record.
"When he was here the first time, I thought he thought it was more like college and came and got a lot of shots up, didn't play hard all the time," Jones said.
"It's amazing how much more of a student of the pro game he is now to back then," Jones added. "Having said that, that really speaks a lot to one, the Boston Celtics and what he's been around. And two, to the validity of this league."
Fredman added: "He knows he needs to play to get better. And I think he was excited to come down here and play."
Pruitt had a good thing going at USC in being its second-leading scorer in 2006-07. This season could have risen his draft stock by getting the chance to team with national phoneme O.J. Mayo.
"I did think about staying and playing with O.J.," Pruitt said. "Me and Nick Young (Pruitt's teammate with the Trojans who was picked in the first round by the Washington Wizards) were kind of thinking the same thing, and we decided to come out together in the same year."
Jones said that Pruitt is one of the few who could leave school early and ready for the NBA, at least on some levels.
"There's very few I felt like are ready emotionally to come out," Jones said. "There are several skill-wise that are ready to come out. But I think there are a lot who come out that aren't ready emotionally or skill-wise. Maybe have the potential. One thing Gabe does have is the skill-set."4 comments on this story
Waving off the notion that Mayo's individual play could have hurt him, Pruitt said any additional notice that USC would get only would have NBA teams notice him more.
"He would have brought more attention to our team and allow to do what I do, which is play basketball and get the attention as well," Pruitt said.
With that potentially on his plate for his senior year, Pruitt thought now was the time to make the move to the NBA.
"I thought it was the right time, and I had pretty good workouts," Pruitt said. "The stuff I was hearing was pretty good and positive. I thought I had a good chance, and I don't regret coming out at all early. I came down to a good spot and a good opportunity."