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Szczerbiak, sister share a joint problem.

Byline: Bill Doyle


Basketball runs in Wally Szczerbiak's family. Unfortunately, so do knee injuries.

The Celtics forward underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last year. So did his sister, Wendy, a freshman on the Lehigh women's basketball team this winter.

Szczerbiak banged knees last Feb. 21 in Utah with ex-Celtic Milt Palacio and played in pain for the rest of the season before sitting out the final seven games and undergoing surgery in April.

Three months later, Wendy hurt her knee during Lehigh's summer camp and underwent arthroscopic surgery as well.

"She's got loose kneecaps like I have," Szczerbiak said. "I guess it's a genetic thing in our family, but she's fine now. She's wearing a brace for it."

Wendy didn't join the Lehigh team until halfway through this season.

"I tried to help her and encourage her through her rehab," Szczerbiak said. "She's come back real strong. I'm proud of her for working the way she has."

When Lehigh lost at Holy Cross a week ago yesterday, Szczerbiak watched from the Hart Center stands behind the Lehigh bench with his parents as his sister scored a season-high eight points in 16 minutes.

"She played very well," Lehigh coach Sue Troyan said. "I don't know if it was because he was there or not, but it was neat for her."

"Seeing her play as a freshman," Szczerbiak said, "I liken it a lot to when I was a freshman (at Miami of Ohio). Coming from the high school we came from, which wasn't a basketball powerhouse, was an adjustment - the practice times, the defensive schemes, how hard you have to play, how much you have to mature, how hard you have to work in the weight room - and I think she's realized that and getting better at it. She has the skills and talent to be successful if she puts in the hard work at that level."

Wally is 6-foot-7. Wendy is 6-foot-2. They get their height from their father Walt, who is 6-6. Walt played a year in the ABA for the Pittsburgh Condors and several more in Spain, where Wally was born. Walt helped Real Madrid capture three European championships.

Walt coached her daughter's AAU teams, and Wally taught her a few things while playing H-O-R-S-E against her in the driveway. He never eased up to let her win, though.

"If she won, she had to earn it," Wally said, "and she earned a few wins along the way. She can shoot, no question."

That's another family trait, although Szczerbiak hasn't shot well this season after spraining both ankles.

"It's no fun when you get injured," Szczerbiak said. "It's no fun coming back and not being the player you're capable of being, but it doesn't happen overnight. You have to work through times like this, you have to work through some pain, you have to work through some ups and downs, and continue to work hard because there will be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow sometime."

Wendy started on the varsity since the seventh grade and scored 1,898 points for Cold Spring Harbor High School, the same Long Island high school Wally attended.

"She outscored me in high school," Szczerbiak said. "There's no question."

Wally averaged more points as a senior (36.6 to 20), but Wendy averaged more rebounds (18 to 15.9).

"I think she's going to have a great career here," Troyan said. "It's a real good level for her to play at. Her upside is tremendous. She's very eager to learn, very coachable, and very attentive with everything taught to her."

Like her brother, Wendy can shoot the 3-pointer, but she can also post up defenders. Wendy's biggest adjustment is learning to play defense on the college level.

"In high school," Troyan said, "you kind of sit in the middle of a zone and block shots. Now, you're actually asked to play defense and understand that. But she has a lot of talent, great size, great hands. It's just going to take some time for her to develop."

The Lehigh team went to see the Celtics play the Nets in New Jersey on Dec. 9, and Boston posted a rare victory. Unfortunately, Szczerbiak was recovering from the first of his two ankle sprains and didn't play. He did graciously pose for photos and sign autographs for the Mountain Hawks, though.

"It was kind of neat for the kids," Troyan said. "For Wendy, it's family, but for our players, it was something new."

Troyan said Wendy doesn't talk a lot about her brother.

"I try not to make it a big deal," Troyan said. "I don't want her to feel like she's living in her brother's shadow."

"I never had any pressure on my shoulders because of my dad," Szczerbiak said, "and I don't think she does, either, because I'm in the NBA."

Troyan learned how to coach a relative of a basketball star early in her time at Lehigh. Kelly Collins, daughter of former NBA guard and coach Doug Collins, played for her at Lehigh and earned Patriot League Tournament MVP honors as a freshman in 1997 when the Mountain Hawks won the title.

'Big' disappointments...

Theo Ratliff's sore back required surgery, so he joined Raef LaFrentz as the second big man acquired by Danny Ainge who ended up being sidelined for most of his first season in Boston. This situation is different, however.

Ainge, executive director of basketball operations, knew of LaFrentz's knee problem before he acquired him from Dallas, but he was so anxious to get rid of Antoine Walker, he took a chance that the knee would hold up.

LaFrentz limped through 17 games before undergoing surgery in December 2003 and didn't play again that season. He did bounce back to play in 162 of Boston's 164 regular-season games the next two years before he was sent to Portland last June in a deal for Ratliff and Sebastian Telfair.

Injuries have plagued Ratliff over the years, but he has never had a bulging disc before. The disc was fine when Boston acquired him on draft night. The Celtics weren't expecting a lot from the 33-year-old center anyway. Boston took on his big contract to get rid of LaFrentz's, which runs a year longer than Ratliff's.

The Celtics did hope Ratlilff could block some shots and help out Kendrick Perkins in the middle, but Ratliff's back limited him to only two early-season games.

Powe's determination...

Ainge made a puzzling comment on WEEI-WVEI radio last week, claiming the Celtics are younger than he expected them to be. Why he's surprised by the team's youth is a mystery because he built the roster.

Partly because of injuries to Paul Pierce and Theo Ratliff, most of the young players are playing. One of the few who doesn't get much court time is rookie forward Leon Powe.

"He's coming along," coach Doc Rivers said. "He's probably where we thought he'd be right now - a guy who's learning the game.

"Heck, a couple of other guys probably should still be doing that right now instead of playing the minutes they're playing every night. I don't know if that serves a purpose or not sometimes, to be honest."

Rivers loves Powe's determination.

"He competes every day," Rivers said. "He's an irritant in practice. They don't like practicing against him because he views them as his games. He has a great attitude. I think every young guy should learn from him. He's just biding time to have his day."



CUTLINE: (1) Wally Szczerbiak underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last year after banging knees with ex-Celtic Milt Palacio. (2) Celtics coach Doc Rivers loves Leon Powe's determination.

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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 4, 2007
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