On his first day at training camp with the Boston Celtics, Damen Bell-Holter of Hydaburg was invited to a card game by Rajon Rondo.
He called Kris Humphries a big brother.
Yesterday he sang happy birthday for Courtney Lee.
It's clear the Celtics are doing their best to make the rookie from Alaska feel at home, and after a couple weeks of training camp Bell-Holter is doing his best to feel he belongs in the NBA.
"It's been awesome being around starting players and learning every single day from veterans," Bell-Holter told me. "That first day was crazy. Right off the bat, just seeing everything, the facility and playing with the guys, I kind of had that deer-in-the-headlights look.
"But since then I've adjusted my mindset. You have to be confident and be a pro. I'm a pro, so I need to act like one. I belong here. I can't be star-struck."
Still, seeing your name on the back of an NBA jersey is pretty neat.
"When I saw my name on that jersey, I was like 'Wow,'" Bell-Holter said. "This is what it's all about."
How did Bell-Holter pick No. 40?
"Oh, shoot, because there's no numbers to pick. Just about every number is retired," he said laughing. "We were joking about how there are only awkward numbers."
The 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward doesn't care what number he gets if he makes the team.
So far, so good; the former Ketchikan High star is still at training camp. But nothing is guaranteed, and he knows that.
"People don't realize how hard it is at this level," Bell-Holter said. "There are so many guys that should be in the NBA, so it's incredibly humbling, extremely humbling. It's crazy and sometimes overwhelming to think about just how long of a road it's been and where I've come from and what I've had to do to get here."
Longtime Anchorage sports journalist Van Williams writes a column on the exploits of Alaska athletes for the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame website. Republished with permission.