When the Boston Celtics were searching for a new head coach this past offseason, it was clear that they wanted a fresh voice. As reported by Jared Weiss of The Athletic, “multiple sources close to the players said several members of the locker room were welcoming a coaching change, noting Stevens did not appear to hold key players accountable.”
So, when Ime Udoka was hired, he was tasked with being more vocal. He challenged players publicly, showed “flashes of intensity” on the sidelines, and made sure not to hold anything back. And in a recent article by Jackie MacMullan of The Ringer, Celtics point guard Marcus Smart spoke about this coaching style.
The Defensive Player of the Year revealed that Udoka would often yell at him to be better and that he’s perfectly fine with that type of leadership.
“There are times when I turn the ball over, and he’ll pull me aside and say, ‘What the f*** are you doing? Get your team together!’” Smart told MacMullan. “I’m good with it.”
Smart isn’t the only player who appreciates Udoka’s intense coaching style, either. Both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown talked about it as well.
Tatum and Brown Thrive Under New Coaching Style
Brown said that Udoka’s patient, yet direct approach helped him earn the trust of the team, as he treated everybody the same.
“Ime got us on the same page because there were no tiers,” Brown told The Ringer. “He addressed us all on the same level.”
Tatum echoed these sentiments, saying that the team’s early-season struggles only made them closer. Boston was a below-.500 squad on January 14 but is now set to compete in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
“Even when we lose games, Ime does a really good job of telling us what we did wrong and what we could do better, but also making sure everyone believes in ourselves and the group and gets ready for the next one,” Tatum said to MacMullan.
Udoka’s coaching style extends beyond simply calling out the players publicly, though. He also made sure to show them exactly what they did wrong.
Celtics Infamous Film Session
In what has now become an infamous story, Udoka held a film session after a disappointing West Coast road trip in December. He called out players in front of the team, showing them clips of what they had been doing wrong.
“There was a montage of Brown repeatedly driving into traffic and turning the ball over. Tatum’s was a compilation of failed iso plays that screamed for an extra pass. Rob Williams III sank in his seat as Udoka rolled multiple missed defensive rotations that led Williams to commit needless fouls. No one was spared,” MacMullan wrote.
However, according to assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, Boston “didn’t respond.” They kept on losing until Udoka called them out one final time after a loss to the New York Knicks on an RJ Barrett game-winner.
Udoka said that until they “forget about scoring and take ownership of the defensive end of the floor, this team is going nowhere.” And then the wins began to flood in. From that point on, the Celtics finished the regular season 33-10.
And now, just a few months after Barrett’s dagger, the Celtics are in the NBA Finals.