WALTHAM — Danny Ainge first encountered the drill in the early 1990s in Phoenix, during the final stop of his NBA career as a player.
“It must have been our strength coach in Phoenix,” he said Tuesday, trying to remember who was responsible for the now-notorious workout routine.
Back then, Ainge said Suns players would line up along the baseline of the 94-foot court and sprint to the opposing baseline and back again as much as possible during a three-minute span.
When he became the Suns coach in 1996, Ainge used the drill to close predraft workouts.
Then when Ainge became the Celtics’ president of basketball operations in 2003, he brought that drill with him to Boston.
It has since become a staple of Celtics’ predraft workouts — so well known by players and agents around the NBA it has been called, simply, “The Boston Marathon.”
Northeastern Huskies guard Jonathan Lee set the Celtics’ record when he ran 29½ lengths last year, just beating out fellow Husky Matt Janning, who ran 29.
Austin Ainge, the Celtics’ director of player personnel, joked the success of the Northeastern players was akin to the Kenyans’ success in marathons, adding he believed their college coach uses that same drill too.
“But no matter whether you’re prepared or not, that’s really moving,” said Austin Ainge.
Danny Ainge said the drill is more revealing than one might expect.
“First of all, it shows what kind of condition you’re in, which I think is important,’’ he said. “Second, it shows just how willing a person is to push themselves.
“Even if they don’t get a great conditioning number, you can tell when people are fighting through or when they’re giving in. Those are the most important elements of that.”
Said Austin Ainge: “We’ve had guys find ways to get out of it — and that is more telling than doing a poor job at it.”
The drill has become synonymous with the Celtics, so much so that agents often warn their clients about it before working out in Boston.
“Some previous guys told me about it,” N.C. State forward T.J. Warren said Tuesday. “I felt like I ran pretty hard. It felt good.”
UCLA guard/forward Kyle Anderson had also heard about it, but said he didn’t want to ask anyone what it was like.
“I just wanted to see for myself,” he said.
“It wasn’t bad,” Anderson said with a smile. “It was cool.”
Guard P.J. Hairston, who played at North Carolina and then with the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League, said he completed 23 or 24 lengths.
However, Hairston added he also went through the drill elsewhere: Phoenix.
There, the Suns have a new general manager, Ryan McDonough, formerly a Celtics assistant general manager.
Naturally, and perhaps it’s fitting given the drill’s history, McDonough brought the “Boston Marathon” back to the Valley of the Sun.
“In Phoenix, it was actually a lot harder, because you had a lot of drills that you did before the three-minute [run],” Hairston said. “You went straight into it. I think this one [in Boston] was a little easier. I won’t say it was easy, but it was easier.”
After joining the personnel staff in Chicago for the draft combine, coach Brad Stevens has continued to be heavily involved with the evaluation process by running the team’s predraft workouts.
“I thought it was awesome that he was out here and working us out and putting us through the drills,” said UConn forward DeAndre Daniels. “I thought that was pretty awesome, to see how hands-on he is out here with the guys.”
Given his past as the coach at Butler, Stevens is plenty familiar with many of the prospects that have passed through.
“He has had a previous relationship with a number of the guys that we interviewed in Chicago and have had in for workouts, [from] the recruiting trail or coaching against them in college,” said Austin Ainge. “So I think that does help.”
Said Ainge, “I do know that Brad always leaves a positive impression because he’s such a good communicator and a good coach and a nice person. I think the more interaction players can have with him, the better it is for us.”
Along with Hairston, Anderson, Warren, and Daniels, the Celtics also worked out Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early and Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels on Tuesday.
Full speed ahead
Though the Celtics haven’t yet finalized their full list of draft prospect workouts, they expect that some of the bigger name players — potential picks at the No. 6 spot — will work out for them on June 12 and 13.
Though it’s unclear which players will work out on those days, the team does expect to work out lottery-caliber players in Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart, Kentucky forward Julius Randle, Indiana forward Noah Vonleh, Arizona forward Aaron Gordon, Michigan State guard Gary Harris, Michigan guard Nik Stauskas, and Creighton forward Doug McDermott.