With a solid coaching pedigree from his experience with the San Antonio Spurs and various accounts from former teammates and current NBA players, Udoka’s built a positive reputation for himself. Before landing his first head coaching job with the Celtics, Udoka, a feisty 6-foot-6 guard out of Portland State University, was one pesty defender on the floor and, in the locker room, a motivating force for his teammates.
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One day, an NBA legend told Ime what his true calling was — coaching. In fact, those words came from Basketball Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas.
“Thomas believed Udoka had a rare basketball intellect and an ability to communicate his knowledge with everyone around him,” The Athletic’s Jay King wrote. “When another Knicks player fell out of position, Thomas said, Udoka would remind his teammate how to execute the offensive set or defensive strategy. Thomas said Udoka connected immediately with up-and-coming Knicks players like Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson, David Lee and Channing Frye. And the bond went beyond a friendship, Thomas said.
“Though Udoka was an undrafted 28-year-old with fewer than 20 games of NBA experience, teammates valued his input. Thomas noticed Udoka had a gift.”
Ime Udoka’s Former Teammate: ‘Can’t Wait to See Ime with Marcus Smart
Now, Boston is hoping he can connect to All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and the team’s longest-tenured member — Marcus Smart. Smart, who’s been the topic of conversations amongst Celtics fans, as they wonder whether Stevens sees Marcus as a long-term fit, in Boston, or not.
Fueling speculation that Smart’s days with the Celtics are numbered, is the fact that 2021-22 is the final year of Marcus’ four-year, $51.9 million deal. However, according to one of Udoka’s former teammates, trading away Smart would be a colossal mistake.
Muoneke On Ime Udoka: ‘He’s Just Going to be Real’
Gabe Muoneke, who played alongside Ime as a member of the Nigerian national team, made it a point — at the end of his interview with The Athletic’s Jay King — to mention how threatening the combination of Udoka and Smart will be.
“One more thing I wanted to say,” Muoneke interjected, per The Athletic’s Jay King. “I can’t wait to see Ime with Marcus Smart. They’re going to be so good together. I mean, they’re going to be good together. Oh, man.”
According to Muoneke, Udoka’s lead by example approach is what makes him so special.
“You know how there are certain people where, if they get angry, you don’t really take offense to it because you know you did something to get them angry,” Muoneke said, per The Athletic. “Ime is like that. He’s difficult to get angry, but when you do get him angry, the way he reacts, you’re going to know you’re guilty. And no player is going to take it personal.
“He’s not going to talk noise, he’s not going to embarrass any players. He’s just going to be very real. The emotion that he has to win, every player will know it’s 100 percent sincere, the ownership will know, Brad Stevens will know. And I’m telling you, by accident, people will start saying, ‘Let’s do what Ime’s doing.’ Because he’s that serious.”