Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Mike Crotty battling split allegiances as Heat, Celtics prepare to meet

When Miami Heat guard Duncan Robinson goes up for a shot against the Boston Celtics during the Eastern Conference Finals, there will be at least one Massachusetts resident that is unsure about rooting for the shot to go in or out. Mike Crotty, former Williams player and current director of the Middlesex Magic AAU program, grew up a diehard Boston fan, but coached Robinson at the AAU level.

Most of New England knows who they'll be rooting for when the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals begin on Tuesday.

Mike Crotty may not be one of them.

Crotty, a two-time Division III All-American who won an NCAA basketball national championship for Dave Paulsen at Williams, grew up a Celtics fan and, in fact, worked for the Celtics. He also coached Miami Heat sharpshooter Duncan Robinson in AAU basketball.

"Yeah, it will be interesting," Crotty said. "I think my favorite part about it will be, as a basketball guy, there are no teams I watch more than the Celtics and the Heat and the Bucks. I think Brad Stevens and Eric Spolstra do some amazing stuff on both ends of the floor. So I think it's going to be a treat for everybody from a basketball standpoint.

"It'll be a treat to watch. But you're right, I'm caught in the middle again."

Crotty, who graduated from Williams in 2004, just got done with one of those "caught in the middle" series, when the Heat knocked off the Milwaukee Bucks 4 games to 1. Crotty could have been wearing one of those split jerseys, half Heat and half Milwaukee Bucks, because Robinson and Milwaukee's Pat Connaughton both played for Crotty and his dad Mike Sr. with the Middlesex Magic AAU program.

"Obviously, there's a lot of excitement and a lot of pride in watching the two of them play," Crotty said, "but watching them play against each other, I think about my dad who would love to be seeing it. We coached Pat together. He didn't get a chance to coach Duncan. It's just a lot of pride and joy and excitement for them."

There were times in that series when Connaughton and Robinson played defense against the other. It couldn't be easy for Connaughton to guard a player who once wore Crotty's colors at Williams.

"Sometimes, I would prefer them to guard other people, so I can watch them score all the time," Crotty said. "If one of them's guarding the other, it makes it a little challenging because you want them both to have success.

"It's been fun to watch."

This upcoming series, which starts in the Orlando bubble on Tuesday, with Game 2 on Thursday and Game 3 on Saturday night, could have Mike Crotty going between green and white and black and red. His ties with the Celtics run deep, and it's not just because when he grew up in Belmont, he grew up a C's fan. Crotty spent two years as the team's Director of Player Development.

"To put another layer on it, Brad and Tracy Stevens' son Brady plays on our ninth grade team for the Middlesex Magic. Jay Larranaga's kid [James] plays on that team," Crotty said when I reached him late last week. "Of course, Danny [Ainge] is still there, who I worked for, and I'm close with him. I also coached president of the team's son and the chief marketing guy's sons on my 10th grade team. I have a lot of ties to the Celtics, in addition to just growing up rooting for them and working for them."

Mike Crotty's guy in the playoffs right now is Robinson. Robinson and Crotty connect beyond their Magic tenure, as both went to Phillps Exeter and then went to Williams. Robinson left Williams after his freshman season when coach Mike Maker took a job at Division I Marist.

Crotty and I have discussed the following question many times: Could he have imagined Robinson would be where he is now and doing what he's doing in the NBA?

"The answer to the question is that when he was playing for me when he was 17, I wasn't imagining him being the best shooter in the NBA," Crotty said. "He had a long way to go before he got there. Duncan was a kid, who I always wanted to be excessively confident. It's always been a work in progress. I always thought if I shot the ball like him, I would be excessively confident. I used to say to him 'You're the best shooter in the gym. You've got to let it fly.' When he got to Michigan, I used to always sign off on our conversations 'Best shooter in the world. Keep it going.' It turns out that might be accurate now.

"I always thought he had a high ceiling, but he continues to exceed expectations across the board."

Okay coach Mike Crotty. What is your neighbor Brad Stevens going to do to guard Duncan Robinson?

"Assuming Gordon Hayward is not there still, it's an interesting question. My guess is they're going to put [Marcus] Smart on [Jimmy] Butler, just to start because Marcus is so good," Crotty said. "I would imagine Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum. It's one of them, and I don't necessarily know that it matters. My guess would be Jaylen Brown. Either way, Duncan is certainly a guy, is not some sort of an unknown quantity or a guy that's on the come-up. He's Duncan Robinson, the best shooter in the league or one of the top few shooters in the league.

"I know they'll be keying on him and what he does, because Duncan is supremely important to the way they run offense."

I don't know about you, but I can't wait for Tuesday.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.