BOSTON (CBS) — Jayson Tatum is a rising star for the Boston Celtics. The rookie is a ferocious competitor on the floor and already showing signs of greatness at just 20 years old.
He’s also still a bit of a mama’s boy. But when you meet Brandy Cole and hear everything she has instilled in her young son throughout his life, it’s easy to understand why.
“She was really young when she had me, so we kind of were growing up together,” Tatum told WBZ-TV. “I feel like anything she’s going through or anything I’m going through, we’ve always been there for each other.”
“We’ve always weathered the storm together,” said Cole. “I think in some ways, it’s instilled in him a certain work ethic. … No matter the challenge or the obstacle, quitting or failing is not an option. We just have to figure it out.”
Cole was an 18-year-old freshman in college when Jayson was born, and she wasn’t about to give up her volleyball scholarship. So she packed up her young son and took him to class and lectures with her.
“It just seemed like what I was supposed to do. I had a full scholarship and I didn’t want to lose it,” she said.
Cole said most professors didn’t mind having an infant in their classroom, just as long as he was quiet. That was usually the case, but that doesn’t mean Tatum enjoyed it.
“It was boring, sitting in class,” he recalls. “But we had to do it. Didn’t have a babysitter so I had to go to school with mom.”
Cole was a single mom with a young son, juggling classes and jobs, not to mention real-life struggles. But whether it was the gas being turned off or an eviction notice tacked to their front door, she always found a way.
“I just did what a lot of moms have to do. We just figured it out, made decisions” she explained. “You just do what you have to do.”
It all paid off in the end. Tatum was there with his mom when she earned degrees in communications and political science. And again when she graduated from law school. And then again when she added her MBA.
“I had teachers tell me there’s no way you’re going to make it because law school isn’t your first priority — and it wasn’t,” she said. “I remember sitting on the sidelines for anything he had in school with law books in my lap. But I did it. I heard him scream ‘Mama!’ [when I graduated]. He was so proud.”
His mother’s incredible achievements helped inspire Tatum to have a pretty lofty dream of his own at a young age. It was in the first grade when he decided that he wanted to play in the NBA, a goal he achieved this year after being drafted by the Celtics with the No. 3 overall pick last June.
“To be able to watch him put in the work and achieve all his goals and dreams, I can’t even describe it,” said Cole.
As always, there were challenges along the way. Cole made sure that Tatum’s studies came first, even keeping him out of basketball one weekend.
“I only had to do it once. He called my bluff,” she said with a grin. “It was a rough weekend too.”
And it was shortly after he told his first grade class of his dream that a teacher laughed at him, urging him to come up with a more realistic goal. This did not sit well with Tatum or Cole. But like she always was, Cole was there to support her son.
“I went to school the next day and we had a nice conversation. We had an understanding,” said Cole. “When I’m home building his confidence and letting him know whatever he wants to be in life he can be, and I’m going to make sure he has the resources to do it, don’t tell him there’s anything he can’t be.”
“She was like, prove ’em wrong,” said Tatum, who is now averaging 18 points per game for Boston in the playoffs. “If that’s what I really want to do, all I need is her support and I’ll make it happen.”
Though her son is one of the more exciting young stars in the NBA, Cole is still there to help him every step of the way. Together, they are hoping to make life better for others struggling like they once did. Their St. Louis home that once had an eviction notice hanging on its door? They’re turning that into a non-profit for single mothers in school struggling to get by.
“If we can provide housing and a safe place for them to have their kids, to pay for some utilities, I know what that would have done for me,” said Cole.
You’ve likely seen Cole in the TD Garden crowd several times this season, cheering on her son as his biggest fan. But first and foremost, she’s still his mom (and now a grandma to his young son, Jayson Jr.). They’re so close that Tatum lives in apartment right under her, giving him the opportunity to hang out with his mom whenever he wants. He’ll stop by for meals, to watch games and movies or just catch a nap after practice. Cole couldn’t be happier.
“To him its no big deal, but to me, it’s like I still kind of have my baby,” she said.
She also knows there is still plenty of parenting to do.
“We laugh and joke. I tell him he’s rich, but he’s not grown. People fail to realize, yeah, they’re 19 or 20 and make millions of dollars, but they still need parenting and guidance,” said Cole. “We still have a job to do.”
Being a mom is one job Brandy Cole will never give up. And Tatum, no matter how high his star rises, will always make sure she’s right by his side.
“It’s really special just to know how proud of me she is,” said Tatum. “To know that her baby boy accomplished what he said he’s going to do at three years old. Now I’m living out my dream with her right next to me.”