Boston Celtics

How Mazzulla benefited from Jerry West's tough love in college

"I thought it was one of the most impactful phone calls that I had in my life."

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Prior to tip-off of Game 3 of the Finals, Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla took the time to reflect on a significant interaction he had with NBA great Jerry West upon learning of West's passing at age 86 on Wednesday morning.

Mazzulla recalled a memorable moment from his junior year at West Virginia, where West played college basketball after growing up in the state. As Mazzulla struggled on and off the court, West gave the young player a wake-up call.

"My junior year in college, [I] wasn't living up to anyone's standards," Mazzulla said. "I get a call and it's Jerry. A lot of expletives, but he essentially told me that I was an f-up and that I was ruining an opportunity to be great at something, and just let me have it for like 10-15 minutes.

"I thought it was one of the most impactful phone calls that I had in my life."

After winning three Rhode Island state titles for Bishop Hendricken High School, Mazzulla headed south to play for West Virginia. He had a minimal role as a freshman, then posted a stat line of 5.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and just shy of a steal per game in Year 2. He additionally played in key role in West Virginia's upset of Duke in the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament.

After a promising tournament run, Mazzulla was forced to redshirt for a year after undergoing shoulder surgery. Returning in the 2009-10 season, Mazzulla arguably put up the worst numbers of his career -- 2.7 points, 2.4 assists, and 1.8 rebounds in 16.1 minutes per game. West knew he could do better, so he gave him the motivational phone call of a lifetime.

Mazzulla bounced back the following year, averaging career-highs in nearly every category for his senior season. Cracking the starting lineup for half of the season, Mazzulla averaged 7.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and just shy of a steal per game.

"I stayed at [West's] house once and overslept for UCLA's open gym," Mazzulla added. "I went down for breakfast and got another ass-chewing because I wasn't being competitive enough.

"The thing I remember about him is that he had a tough way of showing that he loved you, but he was super, super competitive and he really, really cared about you and he showed it in a way that kind of spoke to my language. He'll be missed and I'm praying for the family."

While his playing career ended at the collegiate level, Mazzulla's coaching career took off. Now 35, Mazzulla is the youngest head coach since Bill Russell in 1969 -- the year when West became the first player on a losing team to take home Finals MVP -- to take his team to the NBA Finals.

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