The Boston Celtics officially named Ime Udoka as their 18th head coach in league history Monday.
It's been a long journey for the Portland native. Before he was on the radar of any NBA team, Udoka was developing his skills as a standout at Jefferson High School. After his time there ended, he committed to San Francisco for college, the same school former Celtic Bill Russell attended, before coming home and transferring to Portland State.
After his time with the Vikings, Udoka would go on to a 12-year career, which included stops in the NBA, abroad, and with the hometown Blazers.
Playing for the hometown team gave Udoka the opportunity to become a starter for the first time in his career, appearing and starting in a career-high 75 games and averaging career-highs in points (8.4) and minutes (28.6).
When it comes to coaching, he spent nine seasons as an assistant with time spent mostly with the Spurs, and a season each with the Sixers and most recently the Nets.
He’s as qualified as any possible candidate and at his introductory press conference was optimistic about what he’s bringing to the team, especially since he’ll be a leading team with two young All-Stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
"They're going to allow me to coach them, push them," said Udoka. "They know I'm going to be on their ass, and that's what they like about me, they've asked me about that. They want to be pushed, they want to be directed toward winning, and you expect that from your stars.
"The bottom line is they want to win and help us get [championship] No. 18. That part was attractive. Obviously you see the physical talent. Now this is a chance to see them grow and become better leaders, more vocal, and continue to push them to be great."
Udoka being their 18th head coach as the team pursues banner 18 could be the omen Celtics fans need to keep their hope alive.
He already has experience coaching the team’s duo and Marcus Smart in 2019 on Team USA’s World Cup team. Although the team didn’t win gold, it presented an opportunity to create a relationship that proved to be beneficial for both sides years later.
“To separate yourself amongst all of them is difficult, but Ime did that,” said Brad Stevens. “I go back to that he has a great basketball acumen, a great understanding, but that's to me something a lot of people have.
"It's his authenticity, his ability to be tough and yet very warm, and it's his experience. Not only the experience of playing but being eight through 15 on the roster a lot, and then being in San Antonio all those years, and then the last two years seeing totally different things up close in Philly and Brooklyn is a great thing. We could go on and on with the adjectives, but that really stood out as separating him throughout this process."
As a guy who’s had to work harder to get what he wanted as an undrafted player after being with the Vikings, he comes off as being the guy who could connect with the team. Whether it’s with the role players because that’s who he was a pro, or if it's with the stars as he’s spent an abundance of time around All-Stars as a player and coach.
Udoka earned one of the highest-profile jobs this offseason and many eyes will be on him to help the Celtics bounce back. The team was riddled with injuries and health and safety protocol measures which led them to the No. 7 seed and lose to the Nets in five games.
His presence and a hope for health bring optimism to a franchise that's made the Eastern Conference Finals three of the last five seasons.