JUST IN: Rondo Returns, Joins Celtics at Practice….

BOSTON – At around 3 a.m. on a recent early-fall morning, Rajon Rondo was awoken by an unexpected phone call.

The former Celtics point guard picked up, and before he could utter a sleepy, “Hello?” he was greeted by Paul Pierce’s raspy, eager voice on the other line.

“They want us back!”

Rondo had been one of several Celtics alumni who received an email from head coach Joe Mazzulla this past summer, inviting them to Boston to hang around the team at any point throughout the upcoming season.

Pierce was the first to take Mazzulla up on the offer, spending the first week of training camp with the team. Others, including Satch Sanders, Sam Vincent, Antoine Walker, and Eddie House have also stopped by.

On Friday, it was Rondo’s turn.

Rondo had been somewhat taken aback by Mazzulla’s invitation. He had never received something of that nature during or after his 16-year NBA career, eight-plus of which he spent with the C’s.

“You do that in a lot of college programs where alumni come back,” said Rondo, who last played in 2021-22 for the Cleveland Cavaliers. “As a pro, you don’t do it as much because guys get traded to so many different teams and it’s the NBA. So to get that email was very welcoming and humbling at the same time.”

It had been more than eight years since Rondo had been present at a Celtics practice, and this was his first time present as an alumnus. It was also his first time stepping foot inside the team’s world-class training facility.

“It’s like going on a date,” he said of the experience. “You don’t get asked out too often and when you get your first date it’s like you get excited about it. But coming back and seeing [the Auerbach Center], I didn’t get the opportunity to practice or play here at this particular facility. So it’s an amazing facility. I think it’s one of the best I’ve been in, playing for all 16 teams I played for in my career (he’s joking, it was ‘only’ nine). So, it’s a nice facility, and who wouldn’t want to come play in here?”

Rondo said that his former head coach and current president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has put together an “impressive” roster, and is particularly intrigued by the addition of Jrue Holiday. Rondo played one season with Holiday in New Orleans and it’s safe to say that he’s a fan of the new Celtics point guard.

“I love the Jrue Holiday pick-up,” he said. “He’s one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever played with all-time and I’m excited for you guys to see what he can bring night in, night out. Just his mentality, his mindset, his professional approach to the game, and just what he brings out there on the court. He does a lot of intangibles, he’s a very unselfish guy, and he’s fun to be around. But he’s a winner. He’s a competitor.”

Rondo says he also caught up with Al Horford, with whom he crossed paths throughout his entire playing career dating back to college. He said that Horford is one of many pieces that could make this into a special team; a team that he believes has the same potential as his beloved 2008 championship squad.

“There’s a lot of guys that I’d say are great at what they do,” Rondo said. “They have a great shot at winning it all.”

Part of Rondo’s Auerbach Center experience was sitting in for part of Friday’s coaches’ meeting. Coaching is an avenue that he plans on exploring after he finishes his degree at the University of Kentucky, where he’s resumed classes as a communications major.

He said he enjoyed picking Mazzulla’s brain during the session.

“I love teaching the game,” Rondo said. “Right now I have a young AAU program with my son’s team. I coach at that level and want to dedicate my time with him and try to get him off to the right start. My daughter is in volleyball. I’m not an expert coach in that, but I do study that game as well and try to put her in the right positions to get a scholarship. So, coaching is in the future. I wanted to come here this week and learn from Joe and pick up as much knowledge as I can from him and the rest of the staff and just kind of learn.”

Mazzulla says there’s also plenty to be learned from Rondo, as well as any of the alumni who come back.

“The more we can create an open space for the guys who came before us and gave us an opportunity to do what we do, I think it’s important to have,” Mazzulla said. “I’ve always respected [Rondo] as a player. I think he has a great basketball mind and I’m grateful that he’s here. I know the guys appreciate it too.”

Rondo appreciated the experience, as well. Now he understands why Pierce was so eager to reach out to him. Though next time, he’d probably appreciate a call before midnight.

Like Pierce, he, too, would like to step in as an advisor for this team when needed. He noted, “I don’t want to come in as a guy that knows it all,” but, “I’m going to help as much as possible.”

“I’m just gonna let it come natural,” he added. “Nothing predetermined. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to say to those guys. If they want my input, I’m willing to give it.”

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