On Monday, the Boston Celtics officially announced the hiring of Ime Udoka as the franchise’s next head coach. While Udoka has yet to be a head coach in his career, I think there’s a very good chance he could be exactly what the Cs need to hang banner 18 up in the rafters in the near future.
When it comes to the profile that Brad Stevens and the Celtics were looking at for their next head coach, Udoka checks off pretty much all the boxes.
He was a former professional basketball player both in the NBA and overseas, had extensive assistant coaching experience, and had relationships with some of Boston’s current players, including their two biggest stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
That doesn’t really even begin to scratch the surface on why this has the potential to be a great hire, though.
While serving as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, Udoka learned under one of the best basketball minds in the modern game, Gregg Popovich.
During his seven years with the Spurs, he helped the franchise to seven playoff appearances and an NBA Championship. He also got the experience of helping coach the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and LaMarcus Aldridge.
The 76ers had Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Ben Simmons in his one year in Philadelphia while the Nets had Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving this past season while Udoka served as an assistant in Brooklyn.
To say Udoka has experience dealing with superstars is putting it lightly. In fact, he already had experience with Boston’s two biggest stars before even setting foot in Beantown.
Udoka coached under Popovich as part of Team USA’s basketball program during the 2019 World Cup, and he formed relationships with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown while there. He also built up a rapport with current Boston Celtics point guard, Marcus Smart, during that stint.
That time with Boston’s young stars really made an impact on them.
That’s a huge endorsement, and getting a coach that struck a chord with Boston’s main core had to be near or right at the top of the priority list when looking for a head coach.
The fact that Udoka already had the respect of the C’s biggest names should speak volumes.
Apparently, those same Boston Celtics players have already told Udoka they want him to push them and get the most out of them, too.
During his introductory press conference on Monday, Udoka spoke about getting to work with Tatum and Brown, and his message was loud and clear: Boston’s stars want to win right now, and they aren’t afraid of getting their feelings hurt in the process.
"“They’re going to allow me to coach them, push them,” Udoka said. “They know I’m going to be on their ass, and that’s what they like about me, they’ve asked me about that. They want to be pushed, they want to be directed toward winning, and you expect that from your stars.”"
Udoka later added that he’s “not worried” about how the team will react to some hard coaching because that’s exactly what they’re asking for right now. In fact, his overall message to both Tatum and Brown is the exact same thing he once told Kawhi Leonard back in San Antonio.
"“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 stated. “And I’d say the same thing to Jayson and Jaylen. The sky’s the limit. The fact that you’re not All-NBA (this season), 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.”"
Udoka’s attitude, experience with superstars, his preexisting relationship with Boston’s stars, and the respect he already has from the young core for the Boston Celtics are all reasons for optimism.
Only time will tell if he’s the right man for the job, but there are plenty of early indicators to make fans hopeful that the franchise’s 18th head coach can bring home the 18th title in team history.