Here's how Ime Udoka plans to lead Celtics' turnaround


TD Garden might have to start playing some Baja Men at Boston Celtics games next season.

During his introductory press conference Monday after officially being named the 18th head coach in Celtics history, Ime Udoka was asked about the mentality he'll bring to his new team -- and one part of his answer stood out.

"I like to try to bring the dog out in guys," Udoka said. "We've got some young dogs here, and I look forward to pushing them."

The Celtics could use some pushing after a disappointing 36-36 campaign in 2020-21. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the foundations of a talented roster and Marcus Smart is the definition of a grinder, but the C's lacked resolve and toughness at times in their final season under Brad Stevens.

Celtics fans should love Udoka's initial message for Tatum, Brown

Fortunately, Udoka is familiar with Tatum, Brown and Smart, having worked with the trio as an assistant on the Team USA coaching staff at the 2019 FIBA World Cup. So, Stevens' replacement should be able to show the Celtics' core some tough love.

According to Udoka, that's what they're asking for.

"It was just a natural connection with those guys that I had (working on Team USA), Udoka said. "They’re going to allow me to coach and push them. I’m gonna be on their ass, and that’s what they like about me. They’ve asked me about that. They want to be pushed, they want to be directed towards winning, and you expect that from your stars, the character they’ve shown."

"They all have different personality traits … but the bottom line is they all want to help us win and get Banner 18."

Udoka also expressed a desire to work with the Celtics' other young players -- namely recent first-round picks Robert Williams, Grant Williams, Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard -- to expedite their growth. In addition, he pledged to reestablish a "defensive mentality" in Boston, which is fitting given his background.

The 43-year-old Portland, Oregon, native was gritty and defensive-oriented during his seven-year NBA career, and he's brought that same mentality over the past nine years as an assistant coach. While he worked on both offense and defense during his seven-year tenure with the San Antonio Spurs, defense was his primary responsibility in stints with the Philadelphia 76ers (2019-20) and Brooklyn Nets (2020-21).

Celtics Talk Podcast: Exclusive interviews with Ime Udoka, Brad Stevens, and Al Horford | Listen & follow | Watch on YouTube

"What I was as a player was a tough, hard-nosed player, defensive-minded, but I love offense as well. We're going to have a well-rounded team," Udoka said.

Udoka wasn't shy about what needs improving in Boston, either, mentioning the Celtics' poor assist rate as a team last season with Stevens sitting right beside him.

"Looked at the numbers overall: Sorry for mentioning this, Brad, but 27th in assists last year. We want to have more team basketball there," Udoka said. 

"But at the same time, you have to understand what your personnel dictates, and that's Jayson and Jaylen and guys that can really score the basketball at an elite level. So, you play toward their strengths."

The Celtics likely aren't done building their roster for next season, but it seems like they tabbed the right person to lead a talented squad that could benefit from better ball movement, improved chemistry and tighter defense.

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