Celtics

Ime Udoka plans to give Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown the same message he gave Kawhi Leonard

"What are you waiting for? These guys, don't give them too much respect."

Ime Udoka Jayson Tatum
New Celtics coach Ime Udoka has the same advice for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown that he gave Kawhi Leonard. AP Photo/Hannah Foslien, File

The Celtics introduced Ime Udoka as their new head coach at a press conference on Monday, and predictably, Udoka’s first encounter with reporters in Boston was heavy with questions about Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Udoka coached both Brown and Tatum as an assistant with Team USA two summers ago, and he got the stamp of approval from both players, as well as Marcus Smart — another Team USA participant. Udoka said he thanked them for their kind words.

“They’re going to allow me to coach them, push them. They know I’m going to be on their ass, and that’s what they like about me, they’ve asked me about that,” Udoka said with a smile. “They want to be pushed, they want to be directed towards winning, and you expect that from your stars. The character they’ve shown. They all have different personality traits. Marcus is one way, Jaylen is one way and Jayson is as well.

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“But bottom line, they want to win and help us get No. 18. That part was attractive.”

The Celtics job in general was an attractive one — a legacy franchise that values stability internally with plenty of young talent and room to grow. New Celtics President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens said he spoke to a lot of candidates, some of whom were reported and “many others that weren’t.”

“I go back to that he has a great basketball acumen, a great understanding, but that’s to me something a lot of people have,” Stevens said. “It’s his authenticity, his ability to be tough and yet very warm, and it’s his experience.”

“It’s been a great journey to get to know him, way better than I knew him as the guy that was yelling out our play calls in the Philly and Brooklyn series the last two years,” Stevens added.

Udoka takes over a roster that disappointed last season but still possesses plenty of potential. Tatum and Brown are still young. Smart, at 27, is an elder statesman. Robert Williams, Payton Pritchard, Romeo Langford and Aaron Nesmith have barely scratched the surface.

Udoka said the ability to connect with young players is one of his strengths as a coach. He cited Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas as the first coach to bring up his coaching potential.

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“He said you connect with the young guys,” Udoka said. “You’re not a 25-point scorer but they relate to you well, and you push them in the right way.”

Udoka took that advice to heart in his first coaching gig with the San Antonio Spurs.

“Talking to Kawhi Leonard as a young guy, I used to tell him, ‘Why wait? What are you waiting for? These guys, don’t give them too much respect,'” Udoka said. “And I’d say the same thing to Jayson and Jaylen. The sky’s the limit. The fact that you’re not All-NBA, that should be a chip on your shoulder. You should play with that edge, and want to prove people wrong.

“But my message to them would be, ‘Why wait?’ The talent is there. The work ethic is there. It’s a chance to be a better leader, more vocal at times, but don’t wait for anything. Go out and take it now.”

Getting Brown and Tatum to take another leap would be a big step toward the Celtics’ ultimate goal: Winning their 18th championship with Udoka, their 18th head coach in franchise history, at the helm.

“What I keep going back to is the talent,” Udoka said. “When you have two young pillars at that age, the sky is the limit. That’s what it starts with. You’re only as good as your players, and where you push them to get to.”

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“Ime is very hungry to be a head coach and hungry to win, and I think that’s going to be an amazing fit with Brad and the whole team out here,” Celtics owner Steve Pagliuca added. “We’ve had a stable group of folks both in the front office and back office, and I hope it stays that way forever. I hope they all live to be 105 years old, and we’re sitting here 40 years from now.”

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