In less than three weeks, Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum will be back on the hardwood, fighting for top honors in basketball’s most important international competition. Tatum and USA Basketball will officially begin their quest for Olympic gold on Sunday, July 25 with a preliminary bout with Rudy Gobert and France.
Led by San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Team USA began preparing for the journey on Tuesday with its first official practice.
Unlike the squad that competed at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, America’s Olympic crew is fully stocked with superstar scorers. Joining Tatum in Tokyo will be Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, Damian Lillard and Zach LaVine — just to name a few. Nevertheless, Tatum will likely fill a prominent role for the team.
After all, he appears to have made a sizable impression on Coach Pop with his improving play.
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Popovich Recognizes Tatum’s Incredible Growth
Popovich was asked about the Celtics star during his media session after Team USA’s first practice. The 72-year-old answered by shouting out some of the ways in which Tatum’s game has evolved in recent years.
“He’s become more of a two-way player, he’s way more confident, he’s developed more skills, he’s more aggressive and he knows he can dominant people,” said Popovich, via MassLive’s Brian Robb.
Is that all?
Of course, those things were already evident to Celtics fans. Boston’s year may not have gone according to plan from a team standpoint but, individually, Tatum went full-on supernova in 2020-21. In 64 games this past season, the two-time All-Star averaged 26.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.2 steals per contest.
That’s not to say Tatum’s incredible growth was unknown to Popovich — he experienced it firsthand on April 30 when the 23-year-old dropped 60 points to lead his club to a 143-140 victory over San Antonio.
Pop was definitely a fan of the Celtics star long before that outburst, though. Ahead of the World Cup, the Spurs coach had had him pegged as a cornerstone piece for the squad. Unfortunately, an ankle injury limited Tatum to just two appearances in tournament play.
With an Olympic gold medal at stake, Tatum will undoubtedly be looking to make up for the lost time at the Tokyo games.
Coach Pop on Coach Udoka
Tatum wasn’t the only Celtic to get hyped up by Coach Pop. USA Basketball’s sideline maestro also spoke out on one of his coaching disciples, Ime Udoka, who was just hired as Boston’s headman.
Clearly, Brad Stevens’ decision to bring the former Spurs assistant on as his own replacement was a shining moment for Popovich.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled,” he said of Udoka’s new gig, via MassLive.
“The guy is a stalwart. People overemphasize Os-and-Xs in the league. All the coaches know their Os-and-Xs. It’s basketball. It’s not analytical geometry or something like that. That stuff’s not tough. But to understand how to get the most out of people, to develop relationships with players, to make people accountable, to make them want to play for you are really the keys. He’s got all of that.”