WALTHAM — The Celtics have eyed Noah Vonleh for years, watching the Haverhill native play in high school, summer camps, college games and more.
And from the first time they saw Vonleh, the Celtics believed he could not only play in the NBA but potentially one day be a lottery pick.
“Yes,” said Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge. “The size and the length and the big hands — he stands out in a high school game, yes.”
Vonleh, now a 6-foot-10-inch forward with a 7-4 wingspan and catcher’s mitts for hands, worked out for the Celtics at their training facility here Wednesday.
After playing his freshman season at Indiana, Vonleh is a legitimate candidate for the Celtics at the No. 6 overall pick in the June 26 draft. They could very much use his size, rebounding and shot-blocking abilities.
If the Celtics take him, Vonleh, who at 18 is one of the youngest players in the draft, would play for the team he grew up watching.
“I don’t think there’d be too much pressure. I think it’d be a great opportunity, being able to stay in Boston and play in front of my family and friends,” Vonleh said.
“I watched the Boston Celtics growing up, I was just talking to [assistant coach] Walter [McCarty] down there, we were talking about where I’d be living and things like that if I were to get drafted. I think it would be a great opportunity.”
Of course, Vonleh has improved plenty since the team first saw him.
“He’s already gotten a lot stronger and he is going to be a very strong kid,” Ainge said. “He’s got a big frame, big legs and shoulders. The physicality has definitely improved. His shooting has improved.
“One thing you can see from him in high school is he can handle the ball a lot. He played center this year in Indiana, but he played on the perimeter in high school. He can actually dribble pretty well.”
Vonleh played for Pete Hutchins at the New Hampton, a prep school in New Hampshire, and before that for Haverhill, averaging 18.4 points, 17 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 blocks by his sophomore season.
But he said he’s never had a chance to play at TD Garden.
“That would mean a lot,” he said. “In high school, I definitely wanted to play, but my team wasn’t able to make it over there. It would mean a lot to be able to play there.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens ran Wednesday’s workouts.
“I met him at the combine, the first time I had my interview was him and Danny Ainge and a few other guys,” Vonleh said. “He’s a great coach, I watched him when he was at Butler. It was great, he was pushing us through some drills 2-on-2, 3-on-3, putting us in different sets and seeing how well we played in it. And how well we communicated with our teammates, things like that.”
Stevens was impressed with the Vonleh, who came into the Celtics’ facility on Tuesday night just to shoot and get familiar with the place.
“Noah has got a great, great frame, as you can see,” Stevens said. “He’s strong, he’s long. He’s got really strong legs. He’s a physical guy. He’s probably even more physical than I thought when I saw him in person. He’s obviously a really good player. His reputation speaks for himself.”
Austin Ainge said they view Vonleh as a power forward, and Vonleh said he was fine with that.
“I definitely think so,” he said. “I’m a hard worker, I’m going to keep working hard, working on my handle, being able to beat guys off the drills. It’s going to take some time, but I’m willing to put in the work.”
Ainge said they also believe that Vonleh’s rebounding — he averaged 9.0 per game at Indiana — will translate to the NBA.
“Our stats show that consistently, every year, that guys that rebound well on a percentage basis usually rebound well their whole lives,” Ainge said.
“For whatever reason, we have not been able to teach it. We’ve tried. But guys who rebound just do. It’s just an anticipation thing more than fundamentals or even physical ability. It’s a mental thing.”
Vonleh said his workout with the Celtics was his fourth with an NBA team. He said he has already worked out for the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, and Orlando Magic, and might have two more workouts left, with Philadelphia and Utah.
“All the workouts were pretty good,” Vonleh said. “But this one just had a little bit more meaning to it, because it’s my hometown, not everybody gets a chance to work out for their hometown team. This is a great opportunity.”Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.