CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The Celtics will begin their preseason without guard Marcus Smart, who did not make the trip with his teammates to North Carolina and will miss Friday’s opener because of what the team called personal reasons.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Smart is expected back with the team Saturday or for Sunday’s game against Charlotte and that Smart is physically healthy. Smart, 24, is still grieving following the death of his mother, Camellia, on Sept. 16 and admitted moving on from her passing has been difficult.
Stevens would not offer any more information on Smart, who had participated in the team’s practices this week.
Duke in the house
Guard Kyrie Irving and forward Jayson Tatum showed up to Friday morning’s shootaround at the Dean Smith Center (nicknamed the Dean Dome) on the University of North Carolina campus wearing Duke gear. The former Duke players visited the Durham campus Thursday and talked with the current team.
“It was like five or six guys that were on the team when I was there, so that was cool,” Tatum said.
Tatum played in the Dean Smith Center once and played North Carolina three times during his freshman season at Duke. Irving, who played 11 college games, never played against North Carolina.
“It’s cool [being here],” Tatum said. “Obviously I went to Duke, but I like North Carolina. I almost played for Roy Williams. They have a lot of history here. It’s a great program. I like Roy Williams a lot, he’s a good guy.”
Tatum said North Carolina was in his final four schools along with Duke, Kentucky, and St. Louis (his hometown school).
Irving is proud of his short tenure at Duke and said he was no accident that he and Tatum wore Duke pullovers to shootaround.
“It was pretty cool, seeing it on TV and experiencing it as a fan on the sideline when I was watching Duke play here, watching my teammates at the time,” Irving said. “It’s just so historic. Obviously it’s a great rivalry between the two schools and there’s an incredible respect between the universities because of what they accomplished over time, being so close in mileage and so rich in tradition. It’s awesome. It’s nothing but respect, and obviously if you went to Duke, you represent Duke.”
The game plan
Stevens said Irving and forward Gordon Hayward will play against the Hornets but no player will log more than 20 minutes. The Celtics play four preseason games in a span of nine days before having eight days off prior to the Oct. 16 opener against the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I want us to play with great effort,” Stevens said. “Challenge ourselves in that regard so that we can enhance our conditioning and make sure we can really enforce the effort and try to do as many of things we’ve talked about as possible. We’ll screw up some actions, we’ll do some things that we need to correct but let’s make sure we’re in the right spots.”
‘A place where basketball really matters’
Playing at the Smith Center wasn’t lost on Stevens, who has a deep appreciation for the history of college basketball.
“Any time you get a chance to play in one of these unbelievable college programs and in their building, a place where basketball really matters, it’s a fun thing for everybody,” Stevens said. “Obviously I have such a great amount of respect for this program and what they’ve been able to accomplish over the years. Dean Smith is one of the most studied coaches in all of sports and for all the right reasons. Roy’s run has been incredible.”
Stevens said he met with the North Carolina coaching staff on Friday morning.