BOSTON – Joe Mazzulla treated his one season as an assistant coach with the Maine Red Claws as an interview for something bigger. The Warwick, Rhode Island native used that 2016-17 G League campaign as a career stepping stone that, two years later, landed him a dream job as an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics.
Mazzulla was one of three new hires to Boston’s coaching staff Wednesday, as the team also announced the additions of former Red Claws head coach Brandon Bailey, as well as former WNBA All-Star and ESPN broadcaster Kara Lawson.
For Mazzulla, it’s a homecoming of sorts. Although his time in Maine was brief, he managed to build strong bonds with the Red Claws staff, as well as that of its NBA affiliate in Boston. While in Portland, he grew close to then-head coach Scott Morrison, who now also serves as an assistant for the C’s and will be manning the sidelines for the Summer League squad over the next couple of weeks.
“Joe is a great addition to our staff,” Morrison told Celtics.com Wednesday afternoon following the team’s final practice at the Auerbach Center before it heads out to Las Vegas Thursday. “In Maine, we were lucky to have him. He showed a high strength and propensity for player development and also for relating to players and working with players off the court. Those were some of the strengths that caught our eye in Maine.
“He's also a student of the game. One thing I kind of picked up from him in Maine was that he would always study the European teams. Being a FIBA guy myself, I would have some experience or watch a Canadian's team film, but I learned from him to really branch out and try to watch all the leagues and different styles of play that are out there.”
Prior to his time with the Red Claws, Mazzulla had been a standout player at the University of West Virginia. He was the starting point guard on the 2010 team that went to the Final Four and, had the Wildcats not lost to Duke in the semifinal, he would have faced off against a Brad Stevens-coached Butler team in the National Championship game.
After his playing days ended in 2011, Mazzulla went on to coach at the collegiate level for five seasons. Three of those campaigns were spent at Fairmont State University in Fairmont, West Virginia, where he wound up being hired as the head coach following his stint in Maine.
Over the last two seasons, Mazzulla helped to guide the Falcons to a 43-17 record. He says those two years provided him with tremendous experience, which he hopes will aid him on the sidelines in the NBA.
“It helped a lot,” he told Celtics.com of that head-coaching experience. “The ability to make decisions in real time, the ability to train yourself to make sure that you make the proper decision, and then the ability to learn from the decision that you made and make better ones the next time, I think, is something that you can’t prepare for until you become a head coach.”
Of course, going from a small-town, Division II school to the NBA’s most winningest franchise is a big transition, but the 30-year-old believes that if he takes a level-headed approach and maintains his coaching values, then it should be one that he can make seamlessly.
“If you don’t get caught up in the emotion, at the end of day, it’s building relationships and it’s basketball,” Mazzulla said. “So you know, you get away from all the glitz and glamour of what people think the NBA is and you just get back to – you have to build great relationships, you have to be confident about the game of basketball, and you have to be able to communicate. If you can just stick to those three things, you’ll be OK.”
Having seen Mazzulla’s body of work from a first-hand perspective, Morrison believes that his former understudy will be more than “OK” at coaching the NBA game, particularly when it comes to helping younger players grow.
“He’s great at player development, great at relating to and dealing with players,” Morrison said. “He's played at a really high level, he's tough and also is a student of the game where he's looking to learn and expand his horizons. He's confident enough to apply what he knows and what he knows is plenty to coach at this level.”
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