November 20, 2010

Steve Solloway: The growing pains begin for a man called Tiny

PORTLAND - "Get the ball to Tiny!"

The lone voice boomed from somewhere in the bleachers, echoing through the minds of other Red Claws fans. A star wasn't born on opening night, but there was a Tiny sighting.

Maine opened its second D-League season Friday night, losing to Austin, 103-97. It was a sellout crowd, of course. A game for first impressions.

"Take him, Tiny. Take him. He can't cover you."

Paul Harris was the Red Claws' leading scorer with 20. Lawrence Westbrook re-entered the game late after his leg cramped and put down the shots that gave hope. Champ Oguchi stepped up.

But the crowd wanted more of Tiny Gallon. Truth be told, his coach and his teammates probably did, too. Tiny was running the court on empty before he exited with minutes left.

The big man had played hard and it showed on his face and his diminished quickness.

"I like him," said Jim Mayo of Westbrook, a season-ticket holder who came back for more this season. "He's got leadership out there but he's trying to do too much. He's pooped."

And that was at halftime.

Tiny's blessing and his curse is he can't hide. No one who stands 6-foot-10 and weighs 310 pounds can. He's only 19 years old and plays with the exuberance of an older puppy.

He won't or can't hide his feelings, either, which further endeared him to the big crowd. You don't have to wonder if he's working hard. You see it. You don't question his frustration at getting beat under the boards on rebounds, which happened too often.

Tiny's face is anything but impassive. He pounds the air with a fist when he makes a mistake and sprints downcourt. He goes after loose balls and nearly plowed Kip Jones, the son of legendary Celtic K.C. Jones, up into the bleachers. Jones was sitting courtside with Red Claws President Jon Jennings.

There is no loge seating in the Expo. The balconies were dismantled years ago. The fans are on top of the players and so much is visible.

Especially when you're Tiny.

"I like it when the crowd calls my name," he said, that big Tiny smile coming out. He scored 17 points but also led the Red Claws with six turnovers. Harris and Eugene Spates had more rebounds. Tiny knows he has to play bigger.

He has wonderful body control for a big man. Soft hands, too, although he did fumble a couple of nice feeds from Westbrook. He can pass and has a pretty turnaround jumper from about 12 feet. He plays sometimes like he's 6-4.

Which means someone has to remind Tiny he's 6-10. Tiny could be the new Big Baby. Glen Davis became a consistent force for the Celtics last season and is still improving. Tiny is a huge work in progress, the operative words being work and progress. He has a motor.

"You can't stop Tiny Gallon," shouted someone else.

Tiny pleaded to the refs occasionally. He threw an elbow or two to remind the Toros he didn't like being pushed.

The Red Claws had the lead in the first half, lost it, played even and finally fell behind. The loss of Mario West hurt on the scoreboard and on the court. He's the returnee from last season, the veteran on a young team. Westbrook's intensity was missed.

"It looks like they've only been playing together for a week," said Mayo. He was surprised when he heard the team was together for a few days longer. "They ain't got a shooter yet but they're trying."

The Red Claws haven't won a game yet, either, but no one should be worried, Friday was opening night.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

 

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