PORTLAND — Sometimes, said Eugene Spates, a player is judged by more than his ability.

Sometimes, he said, it’s about the fight inside.

“Coach knows what we all bring to the table. He’s looking at the fight in you. Your heart,” said Spates, who talked courtside at the Portland Expo. “It’s a dogfight out here.”

Spates, a former Northeastern forward, is one of 13 players left in training camp for the Maine Red Claws. The roster will be cut to 10 by Thursday, on the eve of the team’s season opener.

Injuries to forward Stephane Lasme and guard Lawrence Westbrook could mean just one player gets cut. Or no one. Veteran Mario West is at an NBA tryout and it is unclear if he will return to the team.

“It may come down to one cut,” said Coach Austin Ainge. “It’s going to be real hard.”

Spates, a 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward, was awaiting an offer to play in Europe this year when he got a serendipitous phone call earlier this fall.

It was the Boston Celtics. They needed bodies to help their team get ready for training camp. They also called Lamonte Ulmer, a 6-6, 195-pound former Rhode Island standout.

Both players happily obliged the Celtics.

Their performance earned them invitations to a Red Claws tryout, which ultimately earned them both spots in training camp.

Spates was picked up last week in the NBA Development League draft, a seventh-round pick, 99th overall. Ulmer landed via the tryout.

“We just loved Lamonte’s athleticism. He’s kind of a freak athlete,” said Red Claws General Manager Jon Jennings. “Spates is a hard worker. He’s a strong guy who can shoot.”

Since arriving at camp just over a week ago, the pair has performed doggedly.

Ulmer saw just over 24 minutes of playing time in the Red Claws exhibition game against Springfield on Monday night. He finished with four points, hitting 2 of 7 field goals. Spates played almost 22 minutes, finished with nine points and hit a pair of 3-pointers.

“Both of these guys came into camp and exceeded expectations,” said Ainge. “They’re great, hard-working kids. But as far as their games go, they couldn’t be more opposite.”

Ainge describes Ulmer: “He is super athletic, high energy. He flies all over the gym.”

He describes Spates: “Eugene plays an old man’s game. Smart. Strong and in control.”

opening night on Friday, both hope to be Red Claws.

The franchise opens its second season with a 7 p.m. game against the Austin Toros.

“I was ready to pack my bags and go overseas,” said Ulmer. “Hopefully we earn a spot on the team. I’m constantly pushing myself.”


Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at: [email protected]