Maine Celtics Hire Jarell Christian as New Head Coach
In late June, the Boston Celtics began a new era by hiring a new head coach in Ime Udoka. On Thursday, their G League affiliate followed suit, as the newly rebranded Maine Celtics announced the hiring of Jarell Christian as the seventh head coach in team history.
Christian arrives in Portland by way of the nation’s capital, where he served for two seasons as an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards under former head coach Scott Brooks. Prior to his stint in the NBA, the New Kent, Virginia native spent five seasons coaching in the G League, including four as an assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Blue, and then one as the head coach of Washington’s affiliate team, the Capital City Go-Go.
As someone who appreciates the developmental aspect of the game, Christian is thrilled to make his return to the G League sidelines, especially for an organization with such a rich history as the Celtics.
“I'm just excited to be a part of the Celtics franchise. It's historic and the legacy, it speaks for itself,” Christian said during a press conference via Zoom Thursday afternoon. “I'm grateful and I'm humbled that [president of basketball operations Brad Stevens] and Ime are trusting me in continuing to lead and build on what previous staffs have already built in Portland, Maine.”
Christian will fill the shoes that were most recently worn by Darren Erman, a former Doc Rivers assistant who was a part of the Celtics’ 2008 championship squad. Erman coached the team, then known as the Red Claws, for the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season before landing an assistant coaching role on Tom Thibedeau’s staff in New York.
Given that Maine did not participate in the G League bubble last season, general manager Remy Cofield had more than a year to narrow down his options for the team’s next head coach before deciding on Christian.
“When we broke up our season [in March of 2020], it was a hard time for everybody,” Cofield recalled. “We wanted to make sure that over the next year and a half that we did our due diligence in finding the next head coach to lead our process and to lead our guys out there. And I know that Jarell will be that guy, that person for us that we can lean on as a leader in Maine, in the community, and being that guy that players can lean on as a coach, but also off the court.”
Being a relationship-focused coach is one of the many traits that Christian shares in common with Udoka. They are also stylistically similar in several ways, as they both plan to implement up-tempo offenses with plenty of ball movement along with a tenacious approach on the defensive side of the ball.
“What we're going to try to mimic in Portland is going to be that of what they're doing in Boston with Ime and his staff," Christian explained. “A lot of the same things, we want to have better ball movement, we're going to have a 0.5 mentality, so we're going to play up-tempo but we're not going to do it recklessly where we're turning the ball over.
“And defensively is where I think you're really going to see an adjustment. That's something that Ime has been very vocal about with his staff and myself is becoming one of the premier defenses in the league, and that's going to trickle down to us. I was a hard-nosed player when I played at Emory and Henry College in Division III, and that’s what I like my teams to be – play hard-nosed, play hard, play aggressive, but with intent and purpose.”
Christian’s love for athletics and teaching stems from his parents. His father, a track and field coach of 40 years, was a standout sprinter who participated in the 1980 U.S.A. Olympic trials. His mother is a retired special education teacher. Christian also has one older brother, Jamion, who is a Division I head coach for the George Washington University men’s basketball team.
Christian began paving his path toward coaching when he was in middle school. He recalls watching the NCAA Championship in eighth grade, rewinding and fast-forwarding on his dual-deck recorder so that he could write down the time stamps of noteworthy plays in order to break them down later.
The 35-year-old is also still very much a student of the game. Over the past year, he worked closely with former Wizard and current Los Angeles Laker Russell Westbrook, studying the star point guard’s work ethic. He hopes that he can use the knowledge he gained from Westbrook to help his G League players develop consistent routines.
“My last two seasons in the NBA, I've learned that it’s not always about you know what you know or how much you know, but a big part about it is what you can teach and what the players can retain,” Christian said. “That’s one of the things that I take pride in is being a really good teacher, being able to communicate to our players of the expectations and being able to hold those guys accountable.”
Christian hopes that taking such an approach will help Maine to maintain its winning ways, while also preparing NBA hopefuls for the next step in their careers, especially the two-way players who will be bouncing back and forth between the clubs in Portland and Boston.
“My whole goal is this year is basically to put out a product that the folks of Maine can be proud of for one, and also put out a product that the folks in Boston can look down and be proud of,” he said. “But the third thing is just being able to develop everyone, whether it's staff, coaches or players. I want to make sure that what we're continuing to build there in Maine is going to be able to benefit the organization as a whole.”