Jayson Tatum takes a shot at a Team USA practice.

Tatum Describes Excitement for Udoka Hire and Upcoming Olympics

Two things have energized Jayson Tatum over the last few weeks: Ime Udoka being hired as the new head coach of the Boston Celtics, and the opportunity to play for Team USA in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Tatum spoke to the media Wednesday afternoon for the first time since Boston’s season came to a close June 1. He spoke this time as a member of Team USA, following its practice in Las Vegas in advance of the Olympics.

A lot has happened within the Celtics since Tatum’s season-ending press conference five weeks ago, including the retirement of Danny Ainge, the promotion of Brad Stevens to president of basketball operations, the hiring of Udoka as head coach, and the acquisition of Al Horford via trade. Tatum acknowledged that the stretch of changes “was a lot at first,” but also suggested that it might be exactly what he and his teammates needed.

As Tatum said, “Change is good sometimes,” and that is especially the case when it leads to a longtime NBA player and assistant coach who had a pre-existing relationship with Tatum landing as Boston’s 18th head coach.

“I’m excited about our new coach, Ime … I got to know him a little bit (at the 2019 World Cup),” said Tatum. “I think what stands out the most is, I guess when you’re coming up as an assistant and you get your first head coach job, you’re driven and motivated. And from the conversations I’ve had with him since he’s gotten the job, I can tell he’s just really, really excited.”

So, too, is Tatum, who added, “It’s going to be fun, and we’re gonna try to accomplish something big.”

That comment was with relation to pursuing an NBA championship in Boston, but the duo will first look to accomplish something big in Tokyo.

Tatum is the first member of the Celtics to play for Team USA in the Olympics since Larry Bird did so as part of the 1992 Dream Team. Udoka, meanwhile, is a development coach on Gregg Popovich’s USA staff.

The prospect of representing his country in the Olympics, under his new head coach, no less, was an opportunity that Tatum just couldn’t pass up.

“I’m excited to be here. This is a great opportunity,” said Tatum. “I think playing in the Olympics is something I always dreamed about. So I’m looking forward to it and just playing with a group of guys that you can go out and compete against. I think that’s what is the most fun part, just being on the same team with these guys.”

Also of note is the fact that playing international basketball under Popovich and his staff during the 2019 World Cup is what arguably launched Tatum into stardom. Tatum recalled Wednesday afternoon how that experience set him up to take a leap during the 2019-20 NBA season.

“Just how [Popovich] was coaching me and what he expected of me and the confidence that he had, and knowing all of the great players that he’s been around,” he remembered. “After leaving that camp, and knowing that one of the best coaches ever thinks highly of me, I kinda came into my third season just feeling really confident that, regardless of my age, that I was one of the best players, and I just had to go out there and prove it on a nightly basis.”

Tatum has done just that during his two NBA seasons since, which led to his selection to the Olympic team this summer. He is now widely regarded as one of the top players in the world, one who is excited to live out a dream by representing the United States at the Olympics, all with his new head coach right by his side.

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