Ime Udoka joined Jayson Tatum for the first day of Team USA practice on Tuesday ahead of the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony later this month. Both received ample praise from head coach Gregg Popovich on Tuesday.
Udoka previously coached on Popovich’s USA World Cup roster in 2019, on which current Celtics Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Tatum competed. Tatum is back on a more star-studded Summer Olympics roster, and Udoka will join him to begin their coaching relationship early.
Team USA initially announced Steve Kerr, Villanova’s Jay Wright and Lloyd Pierce as Popovich’s top assistants for the Tokyo Games. Udoka said he looked forward to joining Tatum in Tokyo as he introduces himself to the new roster in his introductory press conference. Adam Himmelsbach predicted Udoka could also lead Boston’s Summer League team in Vegas, where he’d likely oversee at least Moses Brown, Yam Madar, Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard to wrap a busy August.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled,” Popovich said about Udoka’s new job.
“The guy is a stalwart. People overemphasize Os-and-Xs in the league. All the coaches know their Os-and-Xs. It’s basketball. It’s not analytical geometry or something like that. That stuff’s not tough, but to understand how to get the most out of people, to develop relationships with players, to make people accountable and make them want to play for you are really the keys and he’s got all that. He’s really a gifted communicator, although with him less is more. He’s not a talker, he’s a communicator and more than anything he’s genuine.”
Udoka was visible at Tuesday’s laughing with Tatum in a Team USA photo. Bam Adebayo and Tatum arrived after working out in Miami over the weekend, joining Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant, Jerami Grant, Draymond Green, Zach LaVine, Kevin Love and Damian Lillard. The team awaits the arrival of NBA Finals participants Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Devin Booker.
Popovich’s comments about Udoka’s strengths reflected similar importances when constructing an Olympic team. A roster reaped with star talent needs little strategic guidance and more facilitation allowing personalities to thrive with each other. Pop previewed particular emphasizes Tuesday, like the restoration of Love’s game after several trying seasons with injuries.
Tatum, who would’ve struggled to garner attention even next to Love in 2019, has now emerged as a front man in the eyes of Popovich — who watched him unload a Celtics record 60 points on his San Antonio Spurs in April.
“We were hugely disappointed when he got hurt (in 2019), he was going to be our go-to guy and he was just finding his legs so to speak, not totally confident, not realizing maybe how good he could really be at both ends of the floor. Probably a concentration on offense, like most NBA players when they come in. During that camp and from that time to now, under Brad’s tutelage, he’s become more of a two-way player, he’s way more confident, he’s developed more skills, he’s on top of that more aggressive and knows that he can dominate people, so he’s much different coming into this situation than before.”
Tatum recently praised the fresh start that Udoka affords the team. They’ll begin their quest for their first gold medal against Iran, the Czech Republic and Evan Fournier’s France squad in the group stage of the Olympics.
“You know exactly what you’re getting,” Popovich said. “I’m sure that’s what Brad Stevens felt when he interviewed (Udoka) for the first time.”