BOSTON (CBS) – The Boston Celtics have stumbled to a 15-33 record after a 2-15 month of January, a month that head coach Brad Stevens said wasn’t very fun.

But the first-year NBA coach is still pleased with the fact his players are still working hard in practice and giving it their best effort on the court every night.

“We have a chance every day to get better and improve ourselves, and it starts with that motivation from within to do so,” Stevens told 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Gresh & Zo on his weekly appearance on Friday.

One player that Stevens had tried to give a little extra motivation to is Jared Sullinger. The second-year forward has had a spectacular year despite battling injuries (most recently a hand bruise and dislocated finger) and often times playing center, going up against much bigger opponents.

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Despite that, Sullinger is averaging 12.8 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds. He recorded his 13th double-double of the season in Wednesday night’s loss to Philadelphia at the buzzer, scoring 24 points and pulling down 17 rebounds. It was Sullinger’s third game this season with 17 or more rebounds.

But Brad Stevens wants to see Sullinger mold himself into a leader, which is why he issued the challenge.

“I just think his ceiling is high. You have to balance our guys getting the very most out of this experience now, and where they can go from here,” said Stevens. “Some of the young guys are in the league because they have a specific skill set, and their ceiling is what it is. There are other guys who have a higher ceiling and can play different roles, as they get older get better and become a go-to player. I think Jared can do that, and has done that.”

“The gist of my talk with Jared was ‘Hey, you’re 21, 22-years-old, but this is an opportunity that most guys don’t get until later on in their careers. You have a chance to take advantage of it now, and don’t use youth as an excuse not to do it,'” he said.

Stevens said he had a good 1-on-1 talk with Sullinger about elevating himself, which is the best way to issue such challenges.

“You can motivate within a group, speaking before the game or at halftime, but those are fleeting. Those last maybe a night, maybe a few minutes of a night. Those individual meetings are where you make your most headway. Talking to people not only about what we’re trying to do collectively, but how we can get them to perform at the level they want to,” he said. “I think the guys that separate themselves have it intrinsically, and they just have to be reminded of it sometimes.”

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Stevens also touched on the strong play by D-Leaguer Chris Johnson, who signed a second 10-day contract with the team on Tuesday. Stevens and his staff have had no problem putting Johnson in late-game situations because the 23-year-old has earned that opportunity.

“What’s crazy about it is I don’t think we’ve second-guessed those decisions,” said Stevens “He plays with a high motor. If he gets beat on a play once, he doesn’t get beat twice. Add it up and he’s a really good basketball player. I love having him around, and he’s quickly won us all over. He’s a guy we all want in the game.”

“It may not be the case every game, but he’s certainly earned those opportunity with his play and performance.”

Stevens also talked about watching Sunday’s Super Bowl with his family, and studying champions in ever sport:


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