Tatum, Udoka have some extra bonding time – Lowell Sun


Jayson Tatum has already scored a unique benefit from his 2021 Olympic experience.

On the side, following regular practices, the Celtics star has been able to work one-on-one with his new head coach, Ime Udoka, a member of the support staff for USA men’s coach Gregg Popovich.

Video was recently released of Tatum posting Udoka, a former defense-oriented forward who attacked the 23-year-old with a kind of barrel-chested physicality.

Tatum snorted during a Thursday Zoom conference the strategy actually worked.

“He was TRYING to guard me,” said Tatum. “He didn’t have too much luck. But we were getting some extra work in at the practice, going through some drills, getting some extra shots up.”

Along the way Tatum is also developing an impression of Udoka’s coaching style. The first-time head coach has promised to “get on” a young, under-performing Celtics team that clearly needs that kind of spark.

“He’s excited to be the new coach, and for this opportunity,” said Tatum. “He’s motivated and driven. We’re both excited. Obviously have a job to do here first, and then we’ll take care of that when we get there.”

Tatum is still trying to overcome jet lag following the team’s flight from training in Las Vegas to Tokyo. The turnaround is quick for the American men, with their first game set for Sunday against some familiar faces on the French team, including Evan Fournier and former Celtics Vincent Poirier and Guerschon Yabusele.

But in the short term, Tatum needed to overcome a case of the yawns.

“Trying to still get used to it, trying not to randomly fall asleep,” he said drowsily. “Waking up at all hours of the night. My body is still trying to get adjusted. I guess it takes a couple of days. But I’m excited, I’m ready after being in Vegas and the long flight over here. It’s almost that time.”

And in a major way, it’s a time unlike anything Tatum has ever known following his struggle to overcome a case of COVID and its after-effects last season.

“I’ve learned to not take things for granted. In the climate of the last year and a half, just realizing that everything is not promised,” he said. “You never know what could or couldn’t happen, so it’s staying in the moment and really enjoying this journey, this process of being 23 and being in the Olympics. It’s an honor — really a dream come true.”

Part of Tatum’s dream, unfortunately, didn’t come true. Bradley Beal, a lifelong friend dating back to their common St. Louis roots, was unable to accompany the team due to a positive COVID test.

“First and foremost, I’m concerned with his health and want to make sure he’s doing alright, no major problems,” said Tatum. “I was upset. This was important for both of us. Not going to be able to happen, but looking forward to competing out here, getting the gold medal, and making sure we have an extra one for him.”

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