BOSTON (CBS) — Ime Udoka couldn’t be happier that his first head coaching gig in the NBA is with a franchise like the Boston Celtics. Introduced by the C’s as the new man in charge of the bench on Monday, Udoka said that Boston was the most attractive opening this summer, thanks to the franchise’s collective vision to bring home Banner 18, and the fact that the Celtics have a pair of rising stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
But while he was all smiles during his introductory press conference, Udoka made it clear that it’s not going to be all sunshine and lollipops when the team hits the floor together. The 43-year-old Udoka spent his playing career on the back end of each roster that he was on, and he had to fight for everything. He was a hard-nosed player on both offense and defense, and always connected with players that he shared the floor with, setting the stage for his future in coaching. After spending the last decade as an assistant coach, he’s going to make sure each and every player up and down the Celtics roster fights for everything on the floor.READ MORE: Jayson Tatum Leaps To Simone Biles' Defense: 'Simone Is A Hero!'
Udoka is going to push all of Boston’s players to be great, which is something his new group asked for in their brief chats with their new head coach.
“I like to bring the dog out in guys, and we got some young dogs here and I look forward to pushing them,” said Udoka. “I’m not worried about hard coaching. They’re asking about that and it’s something I’m going to bring to the table.”
Udoka is giving Tatum and Brown the same message he gave a young Kawhi Leonard when he pushed the forward to become a great player in San Antonio.
“Play with an edge and push forward. Why wait?” he said of Tatum and Brown. “The talent is there, don’t wait for anything and go out and take it now.
“The perception of them outside of this organization is they’re All-NBA level players, MVP-caliber players. Getting to know them the last few years, you’ve seen their growth. They took huge leaps last year,” he said of Boston’s two young stars. “It’s my job top put them in situations to be successful and the sky is the limit with those guys. Two foundational young pillars, it’s fun to help them grow and reach their potential. The sky is the limit and I’m excited to work with them and see them grow throughout their career.”
Udoka worked with Tatum, Brown and Marcus Smart at the 2019 World Cup, when he was an assistant for Team USA under Gregg Popovich. The trio gave their stamp of approval for Udoka during Boston’s search, and they all sound eager to receive some more tough love when the group takes the floor again.
“They’re going to allow me to coach and push them. They know I’m going to push their ass; they asked about that and they want that,” said Udoka. “You want that from your stars.”READ MORE: Evan Fournier Leads France Over Jayson Tatum And Team USA In Olympic Opener
While last year was a disappointing season for the Celtics, Monday carried a lot of promise. Udoka was quick to point to the team ranking 27th in the NBA in assists last season and promised more team-oriented basketball. And given his reputation as a player, there will also be a lot more intensity and focus on defense going forward.
The Celtics are happy to have their new man on the bench, one they hope will help everyone accomplish the ultimate goal of winning Boston’s 18th NBA title.
“[The franchise’s] passion was attractive to me, and obviously, the roster is great. It’s easy to see why this organization has been so successful. It takes me to my San Antonio days,” said Udoka. “There are good people in the building and I look forward to having success with you guys,” Udoka added. “As far as the players and the roster, I’m excited and honored to be part of it. Let’s go for 18.”
Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck said they knew early on that Udoka was their guy, and that he was their first choice and Boston was his. Brad Stevens, tasked with hiring his successor on the bench, said that Udoka separated himself from the rest of the pack early in the process.
“He has a great basketball acumen and a great understanding, but that something that a lot of people have. It’s his authenticity, his ability to be tough but also warm, and his experience. Not just experience playing, but being 8-15 on the roster a lot and then being on San Antonio all those years, and then last two seeing something different up close in Philly and Brooklyn, it’s a great, great thing,” said Stevens. “That separated him throughout this process.”
Udoka is now hard at work rounding out his coaching staff, and in the near future he’ll be coaching Tatum again at the Olympics in Tokyo. Once that wraps up, the focus will be on turning the Celtics back into a title contender.
“We’re all in line with that. It’s not about just getting to a conference finals – it’s about winning,” he said. “Whenever you have those young pillars, you have a chance.”MORE NEWS: Bill Russell To Auction Most Of His Prized Celtics, NBA Memorabilia
Boston certainly has those two young pillars in Tatum and Brown, and they now have a head coach who will continue to push them toward greatness.