PORTLAND – Austin Ainge blew his whistle and the Maine Red Claws practice stopped at the Portland Expo Friday afternoon.

“Way too many turnovers,” he said.

And then Ainge got into his teaching mode, showing his young point guards how to handle defensive pressure. Rather than try to blow by the defender and speed up the play — which is exactly what the defense wants — he wants them to turn their body and blunt the pressure, and then run the offense.

“These young guys are playing hard, but they’ve got a lot to learn,” said Ainge after practice ended. “But they’re fun to coach.”

And perhaps no one exemplifies that more than Keith “Tiny” Gallon, a 6-foot-9, 290-pound mountain of a man who plays more like a guard than a post player. Big his entire life — Gallon weighed 13 pounds, 11 ounces at birth — he also has the athleticism of a much smaller player and loves to play outside.

But at his size, Gallon — who doesn’t turn 20 until Jan. 18 — is expected to play inside, and that’s something he’s trying to learn.

“I really didn’t start playing basketball until high school,” said Gallon, stunningly agile and quick for a man his size. “Before that, I used to always dribble, carry the ball, doing moves, that’s why I can carry the ball like a guard.

“When I started playing organized ball, that’s when they put me down in the post and I was unfamiliar with it. That’s why sometimes now I kind of drift out and want to dribble and stuff like that. My whole life I’ve been dribbling and making moves. Now I’m learning how to use my body real good.”

Ainge drove that message home with a simple talk: “He said to me, ‘Do you want to make thousands of dollars, or millions of dollars?’ ” said Gallon. “I told him, ‘Millons.’ God has blessed me with a big body and great feet and great shooting ability but I’m going to make my money down low. That’s what I’m learning now.

“That’s what I’m doing in this camp. That’s what I’m going to be doing the rest of this season. That’s what I’m going to be doing the rest of my career.”

The Red Claws, and the Boston Celtics, love his potential.

Gallon, born in California, raised in Houston (where he often practiced with many current Celtics), attended Oak Hill Academy in Virginia and went to Oklahoma, where he played only one year before the Milwaukee Bucks took him in the second round last July. He played for the Bucks Summer League team in Las Vegas, spent two weeks in camp, and then was cut. The Celtics picked him up almost immediately and now he’s here, with their NBA Development League affiliate.

“He is so incredibly agile and fast for his size,” said Jon Jennings, general manager of the Red Claws. “And not just his weight. Plus he has great hands. And he has a pretty decent perimeter game for his size. But he’s one of the more unstoppable big men in the post.”

Jennings compared him to Boston’s Glenn “Big Baby” Davis.

“Another thing is he loves the game,” said Jennings.

And he has a personality to match his size. At a special practice for season ticket holders, Gallon became an immediate fan favorite. He is gregarious, loves to have fun and tries to make everyone laugh.

“He’s got the funniest personality on the team,” said Paul Harris, his roommate. “I clown around with him every night. He’s a great guy. He’s just like me, we’ve got to learn a little more.

“He’s young. Once he learns what he’s really strong at and stick to that, do what he does best, the game’s going to come easy to him.”

CLAWS NOTES: The Red Claws will have a scrimmage at 7 p.m. today at Deering High, proceeds benefitting the Rams’ athletic program, and then play an exhibition game against Springfield at the Augusta Civic Center at 7 p.m. Monday.


Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: [email protected]