Competing for an Olympic gold medal has been a lifelong dream for Jayson Tatum. And now, that opportunity lies directly ahead of the 23-year-old basketball superstar.
Following two weeks of prep work in Las Vegas, Tatum and the rest of the United States Men’s Basketball Team flew halfway around the world to Tokyo earlier this week, marking the beginning of their Olympic journey.
“I’m excited. I’m ready,” Tatum said Thursday, two days after arriving in Japan. “After being in Vegas and the long flight over here, it’s almost that time. So I’m ready to get it started.”
The first challenge of Tatum’s trek is getting used to his surroundings, more specifically adjusting to the time zone shift. In his case, the East-Coast dweller is currently fighting off jetlag, as he’s now 13 hours ahead his typical schedule.
“I’m trying to still get used to it,” Tatum said during his 8 p.m. local-time media session, which would have been 7 a.m. in Boston. “Trying not to randomly fall asleep. Waking up at all hours of the night because my body is still trying to get adjusted. I guess it takes a couple of days.”
In the days leading up Sunday’s opening game against France, Tatum is looking forward to building chemistry with his star-studded group of teammates and world-class coaches.
Included on Team USA’s coaching staff is new Celtics head coach Ime Udoka, with whom Tatum has spent plenty of time already. Shortly before departing from Vegas for Tokyo, Tatum got a taste of Udoka’s hands-on coaching approach, as he faced off against the former seven-year NBA journeyman in a one-on-one practice session.
“He was trying to guard me. Didn’t have too much luck,” Tatum recalled while smiling about his friendly battle with Udoka. “We were just getting some extra work in after practice, putting me through some drills, and getting some extra shots up.”
Through their time spent together, Tatum has also begun envisioning what it will be like playing under Udoka in Boston.
“He’s obviously excited to be the new coach and for this opportunity,” Tatum said. “He’s motivated and driven. We’re both excited. But obviously we have a job to do here first, and we’ll take care of [Celtics business] when we get there.”
The first task of the job for Team USA will be taking on France Sunday night (8 a.m. EST). Not only does France boast one of the most talented rosters in the field, but it also contains several of Tatum’s friends and former teammates, including Evan Fournier, Vincent Poirier, and Guerschon Yabusele.
“All three of those guys, they’re all still my teammates. I love playing with those guys,” Tatum said. “VP and especially Guerschon, I haven’t seen those guys in a while. I guess I’ll be happy to see them Sunday, but there won’t be any friends out there when the game starts.”
Tatum has been waiting for Sunday’s tip-off his whole life, as it will mark the beginning of his first Olympic journey. It’s an opportunity for which he holds a great appreciation, especially after going through the trials and tribulations of the ongoing global pandemic.
“I’ve learned to not take things for granted,” said Tatum, who tested positive for COVID-19 in January and spent most of the NBA season battling through its aftereffects. “I think in the climate of the last year and a half, just realizing that not everything is promised, and you never know what could or couldn’t happen. So, I’m just staying in the moment and really enjoying this journey, this process of being 23 and being in the Olympics. It’s an honor. It really is a dream come true.”
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