They’re the feeder program for the defending NBA Eastern Conference champions. And the Maine Celtics say that the buzz that hums in Boston extends north to Portland as well.

“Whenever there’s more energy up in Boston, it definitely trickles down,” Coach Alex Barlow said. “Everyone’s more excited, more upbeat. In the end, we’re trying to win ‘Banner 18’ down here.”

While the Boston Celtics attempt to go that one extra step and capture their first NBA championship since 2008, the Celtics in Maine are doing what they can to get their players ready to contribute to that run. That endeavor began in full Tuesday at the Portland Expo, with the first day of training camp leading into the NBA G League season.

Maine sent multiple players to Boston for last season’s playoff run, including Luke Kornet, Sam Hauser and Aaron Nesmith. Now the new players in Maine are eager to continue the wave.

“When we first started training camp (in Boston) and guys were flying in, I would hear stories about things that were happening last year,” said center Mfiondu Kabengele, one of two two-way players on the Celtics along with rookie guard JD Davison. “Good stories, the stuff that kind of got them going and moments that kind of accelerated the process for them.

“I hear those moments and I kind of take that into my mind. ‘How can we recreate that?’ ”


Two-way players are under contract to the Boston Celtics and allowed to play up to 50 games with the NBA team. Other players on the Maine Celtics are under G League contracts.

New faces dot the team as Maine heads into another season (the franchise debuted in 2009 as the Maine Red Claws). Of the 16 players on the training camp roster, two – guards Eric Demers and Denzel Valentine – were on the team last season. And when it’s not new faces, it’s new roles; Barlow is going into his first year as coach after spending three years as an assistant in Maine.

“I did it last year for four games, and it was a lot harder than it looks from one seat over,” said Barlow, who takes over for Jarell Christian, now the team’s general manager.

Barlow said delegating tasks to assistants will be an adjustment, as will managing players.

“I think the relationships are a little bit different,” he said. “When you’re the assistant, you’re normally the one that’s building up the players, listening to them vent about ‘Hey, I’m not playing enough,’ or ‘I need more minutes.’ You’re kind of their sounding board and their psychiatrist. And as the head coach, you’re the one that they’re mad at.”

At 30, Barlow is young for a head coach, but his players like the leadership he brings to the team.


“He’s young, but he knows the game, he’s been around a lot of good teams, he’s been around a lot of good players,” Valentine said. “I think the sky’s the limit for him. … He holds me accountable as a coach, he knows the game, he gives you advice on what to do up and down the court. That’s all you can ask for.”

The roster under Barlow will have some talented players as the team aims to return to the postseason after a 16-16 finish. The roster is led by two-way players Davison, a second-round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft out of Alabama, and Kabengele, who has 51 games of NBA experience and is coming off of a season in which he averaged 17.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game for the G League’s Rio Grande Valley.

Kabengele, a nephew of former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo, said he was “super grateful” for his two-way status.

“It keeps me accountable,” he said. “When I was in the G League with RGV, I saw two-ways getting taken away. This can all come and go. This is a good opportunity to stay at a level of consistency I want to be at and build the habits that I want.”

The rest of the Maine cast includes a former first-round NBA pick in Luka Samanic, G League draft picks Kendall Smith and Zak Irvin, and returning players Valentine and Demers.

Valentine, whose 256 games of NBA experience lead the team, played only 12 games last year as he battled a hand injury, but averaged 14.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.


“I like how they do things here. I’m just happy for another year,” he said. “I’ve played with a lot of great players, been around some good teams. I’m just trying to do what I can to help my teammates and myself with the best chance of getting back to the NBA.”

Demers, who played at Division III Gordon College in Massachusetts, is back after playing 24 games in Maine last season.

“Professional basketball was always on my horizon, it was always my plan,” Demers said. “It changed in perspective, I always thought I’d be overseas.”

He’s in Maine again, and he knows his role.

“As a 6-2, pretty unathletic guy, I’m just here to space the floor and knock down shots,” he said. “Try to make the game easier for a lot of the other guys on the team.”

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