BOSTON (CBS) — Before he was carving out his own career as an NBA star, Jayson Tatum had a tendency to cross paths with the game’s giants. There’s that famous picture of Tatum as a boy with LeBron James, and with Boston’s playoff series against the Nets on the horizon, another photo of a young Tatum is making the rounds.
This time, it’s Tatum, then a sophomore in high school, sitting next to Kevin Durant at the star’s basketball camp. Durant was coming off an MVP season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, while Tatum was eager to become a rising star in the world of basketball. As kids tend to do, Tatum posted the image to his Instagram account, and KD commented with “keep working.” It’s a message that Tatum has carried with him since that encounter.
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Jayson Tatum at Kevin Durant’s basketball camp a few years back pic.twitter.com/k9KbCJ2Ul7
— NBA Retweet (@RTNBA) August 15, 2018
Now that he’s about to go head-to-head with Durant in the opening round of the NBA playoffs, Tatum reminisced about that 2014 meeting on Thursday.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” he said. “I always envisioned when I took pictures with those guys that I would one day be in their shoes. It’s cool. Obviously, I knew him pretty well and getting a chance to compete against him, knowing he was a guy I really, really looked up to when I was in middle school and high school, it’s cool to see those things come around full circle.”
Tatum is going to have to play at a Durant-like level to give Boston any chance at making this a series. And he is coming off an epic 50-point performance in Boston’s play-in victory over the Wizards on Tuesday night, Tatum’s third game with at least 50 points this season. He’s brimming with confidence, and hopes that his teammates are feeling the same way.READ MORE: 'Survivor' Contestant Michelle Yi Describes Frightening Santa Monica Assault
“I’m sure it helps us. I think that’s just part of my role and everybody has a different role. The main role is doing whatever it takes on any given night to help us win,” he said. “I’ve had a few of those big nights and other guys have had big nights of their own to help contribute to winning. It was just one of those nights and we all feel good about ourselves after that. That was a big win, but it’s behind us now. We’re on to a new series so that is our focus.”
Focus will be key against the Nets, a point that head coach Brad Stevens has harped on since the Celtics secured their playoff spot. For Tatum, his focus will have to be matching Durant on offense, while trying to slow him down on defense.
That is not an easy task, considering Durant has averaged 25.8 points in his five matchups against Tatum, winning three of those five games. Most of those showdowns came when Tatum was a rookie though, and Tatum and Durant squared off just once this season; Christmas Day when the Nets blew out the Celtics 123-95 behind 29 points from Durant. In that game, Tatum scored 20 to go with eight rebounds.MORE NEWS: Fantasy Football Start Or Sit Week 8: Can Kirk Cousins Put Up Points On The Cowboys Defense?
But if he wants to rise to a superstar level like Durant, the best way to do so is by outdueling those greats and leading Boston to victory. Tatum will get his first try at that Saturday night in Brooklyn.