Unsurprisingly, Jaylen Brown, the former third-overall pick, has quickly catapulted himself into the upper echelon of NBA two-guards a mere four years into his pro career. Surprisingly, that already marks one more season than one prominent NBA head coach envisioned Brown’s pro career lasting, or so he told the now-Boston Celtics star.
In a Zoom conference call with University of Massachusetts students back in May, Brown revealed a harsh interaction he had with current-day Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan, an interaction that has fueled him to this day.
“He told me he wasn’t playing me because he said I didn’t play hard,” Brown recalled, a then 17-year-old high school phenom playing for Donovan on USA Basketball’s Under-18 team. “I said, ‘What do you mean, I’ve been cooking everybody.'”
Brown claims Donovan took it a step further, telling him “you’re only going to be in the league for three years because you don’t play hard,” per Boston Herald’s Mark Murphy.
Initially, Donovan’s comments unraveled the 2015 Mr. Georgia Basketball, “I was so mad I was crying,” Brown said.
However, since then, Brown has changed his tune on the interaction. “I think Billy Donovan had a big impact on my drive for sure,” Brown said. “I’m in the NBA now, and hopefully I have a couple more years now to go, so we’ll see.”
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Donovan Was Trying to Take Brown’s Game to a Different Level
Donovan got the chance to address these comments prior to the Thunder-Celtics scrimmage this past Friday, a game in which Brown and his Celtics ultimately came away victorious, 98-84.
“That was a while ago,” Donovan said, according to Mass Live. “I think that when we first started playing, as tryouts were taking place, he was clearly if not the best, certainly top one, two or three most talented guys there.”
“I think when we started getting into some structure and started playing, I think he was somebody in my opinion that had unbelievable talent, unbelievable ability,” Donovan proclaimed. “But I was trying to get him to understand just how hard he had to play and compete, because I thought that playing hard and competing would take his game to a different level just because of his overall talent.”
“I only had those guys for a few weeks,” Donovan added, “and during those few weeks you try to coach those guys and give them everything you can to help them moving forward in terms of their career or their future.”
The former University of Florida head coach even went on to applaud Brown as a person, adding that the Gators even tried to recruit him coming out of High School.
Fast forward a few years and Donovan’s somewhat unusual approach to get through to Brown has clearly paid off. Brown cashed in a $115 million contract and has responded with his best season to date.
Brown is part of the NBA’s only three-headed monster to each average 20+ points per game in the 2019-20 season (Brown 20.4, Jayson Tatum 23.6, Kemba Walker 21.2) and is a key cog for a Boston team with legitimate title aspirations.
Simply put, on behalf of Celtics fans everywhere, thanks Billy.