The Read & React series is intended to share/aggregate stories written by other outlets but also provide my own response and/or reaction to the subject material.
Joe Mazzulla is an unknown entity for most of the basketball world. So when he was thrust onto center stage as the new head coach of the Boston Celtics, it only makes sense that multiple outlets would be covering his backstory in detail. Today, I’m sharing links and quotes from articles written by Chris Mannix (SI.com) and Adam Himmelsbach (The Boston Globe). Both are well worth the read on their own, but below are my thoughts on some choice passages.
From SI on his college incidents:
“I wasn’t good at handling my emotions or handling adversity. I’ve worked on that a lot. Mental performance is a huge passion of mine because of that. Our brain is a muscle. How can we train our brains? How can we separate, embrace, and evaluate our emotions? How can we use our emotions to help us? It’s no different than physical performance. You want to get stronger, you go in the weight room. You want to get mentally tougher, you got to go to the mental gym.”
There’s an interesting juxtaposition in Joe’s personality between his unwavering confidence and a healthy humility. You want the leader of the team to have full confidence and conviction in the direction he wants to take. However, to connect to players you also need to meet them from a place of understanding and empathy. His college incidents are regrettable for sure, but the way he grew and learned from those experiences speaks to his character.
The mental training is something that some of our best players can relate to and learn from as well. Marcus Smart at times has struggled to find that fine line between positive disruption and chaos. Several players (including Jayson Tatum) have struggled for years with controlling their emotions directed at referees.
More from SI.com:
“You have so much more responsibility as a Division II coach,” Stevens says. When Micah Shrewsbury, a longtime Stevens lieutenant, accepted a head coaching job at Penn State, Stevens thought of Mazzulla. He asked Morrison. “Scott swore by him,” says Stevens. Says Morrison, “Lots of coaches are good at X’s and O’s. A lot of coaches are good at building trust. Joe is a guy who is great at both. He can coach the game. He can build that trust with a guy. He can build them up. He can tell them to f--- off. He has that kind of juice. Not many coaches have both.”
Forgive the massive over-simplification and narrative building, but with very broad strokes you can see a trend forming. Brad Stevens was a statistician who preached growth mentality. Ime Udoka was a disciplinarian and motivator and the team needed that kick in the pants last year. Joe Mazzulla is being billed as a little bit of both. In theory that sounds great, but can he do it on the brightest stage he’s ever been on?
One message that the team wants to make crystal clear is how much they believe in Joe. In fact, if you hear a knock at your door in the next week, it might very well be Brad Stevens going door-to-door to sing Mazzulla’s praises.
From The Globe:
“But during those talks, the one part that was never in question was who would step in if it wasn’t going to be Ime,” co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said. “[President of basketball operations Brad Stevens] put his mark on that when he said, ‘I stand by this recommendation, and feel extremely strongly about Joe.’”
You could say that Joe’s ascent has been meteoric given his age and years of experience. But it does seem like there’s been a continual grooming process preparing him to be a head coach. From learning from his father (a long time High School teacher in Rhode Island) to playing for Bob Huggins at West Virginia to coaching in the G-League to coaching for Fairmont State to being recruited (twice) by the Celtics to be an assistant coach. Clearly he’s impressed at every step and was famously interviewed for the Utah Jazz head coaching position.
As a fan, I’m ready to root for this man. He’s put in the work, seems to have the right attitude, and clearly has a talent for the game. I trust that he’ll do all he can to put this team in position to succeed. But better men and smarter minds have failed before, so there’s a lot left to see. Brad Stevens admitted openly that his first year was a steep learning curve. Of course, he had no expectations beyond developing players through a losing season. Mazzulla has the benefit of familiarity with the team, but he’s going to have to learn on the fly and his mistakes will be amplified because of the team’s expectations and talent.
Let’s just hope that he can apply all the lessons he’s already learned, put in the work to prepare for each game, and strike that perfect balance between challenging and connecting with his players. Or to put it more succinctly, let’s hope he helps bring us Banner 18.