C's New-Look Staff Brings Plenty of Playing, Coaching Experience
While Brad Stevens has been busy this summer constructing his first roster as Celtics president of basketball operations, he and head coach Ime Udoka have also been working diligently to assemble a (mostly) new group of assistant coaches and player enhancement coaches.
On Tuesday, they finalized Udoka’s 11-man staff, which consists of several experienced assistants, numerous former professional players, and few familiar faces that will be remaining with the organization.
The team announced that Will Hardy, Damon Stoudamire, Ben Sullivan, Joe Mazzulla, Aaron Miles, and Tony Dobbins will serve as assistants under its new head coach. The player enhancement staff will consist of Evan Bradds, Garrett Jackson, DJ MacLeay, and Steve Tchiengang, while long-time Celtics video coordinator Matt Reynolds will serve as Udoka’s special assistant.
Now, let’s dive into each of their backgrounds and what they’ll bring to the table for the 2021-22 season.
Hardy is one of the most experienced NBA coaches of the group, having spent the past six seasons as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs. The Williams College graduate spent 11 years on Gregg Popovich’s staff, starting off as a basketball operations intern in 2010, then transitioning into a video coordinator role before landing an assistant coaching role.
Seven of those years were spent with Udoka, who got his coaching start with the Spurs, as well, in 2012. Hardy also served alongside Udoka at the international level as an assistant on Popovich’s Team USA staff for both the 2019 FIBA World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics. His involvement with those two squads allowed him to coach a few core members of the C’s including Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, as well as Jayson Tatum, with whom he won an Olympic gold medal this past summer.
Hardy also has some head-coaching experience under his belt after serving at the helm of San Antonio’s Summer League team in 2017 and 2018.
Head-coaching experience is a perk that Stoudemire brings to the table, as well. The 48-year-old former NBA guard spent the last five seasons leading the University of Pacific men’s basketball team. In 2019, he was named West Coast Conference Coach of the Year and was also tabbed the Ben Jobe National Coach of the Year, given annually to the top minority coach at the Division I level.
In total, Stoudemire spent eight seasons coaching at the collegiate level, including stops at the University of Memphis and the University of Arizona. He got his coaching start as an NBA assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies from 2009-11.
However, Stoudemire is perhaps best known for the life he lived prior to coaching. The 5-foot-10 point guard enjoyed a 13-year NBA career, making stops in Toronto, Portland, Memphis, and San Antonio, respectively. The No. 7 overall pick from the 1995 Draft was named the 1995-96 NBA Rookie of the Year after averaging 19.0 points, 9.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game with the Toronto Raptors. He went on to average 13.4 points, 6.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game throughout his career.
The last half of his final NBA season in 2007-08 was when he began to build a working relationship with Udoka, as they shared the court as members of the San Antonio Spurs. The pair also share a common bond, being from the same hometown of Portland, Oregon.
It has been a while since the Celtics had a coach with such extensive NBA playing experience, so Stoudamire’s addition should be beneficial, especially for Boston’s ball-handling crew.
Meanwhile, Boston’s sharpshooters should benefit from the addition of Sullivan, previously known as the Milwaukee Bucks’ “shooting guru” for the way in which he helped, among others, two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo develop a jump shot.
Sullivan spent the last three seasons in Milwaukee, finishing on a high note this past summer with a championship ring. During that time, Antetokounmpo took his game from an All-Star level to a Hall-of-Fame-bound level, and head coach Mike Budenholzer believes that Sullivan played a significant role in such growth.
“Giannis is such a great player,” Budenholzer said at the start of Antetokounmpo’s first MVP campaign in 2019-21, “the more we can push that envelope of him continuing to improve, that’s super-important to us. And that’s a great strength of Ben’s. He’s got a good way of helping players take progressive steps in their games. A lot of times, if we have somebody where we’re spending extra time on shooting, he gets tasked with the majority of that.”
Sullivan had been a staple on Budenholzer’s staff for several years, dating all the way through Budenholzer’s five-year stint as the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. Sullivan was likely a “shooting guru” there as well, considering how a former pupil of his named Al Horford jumped from a 21-of-65 (32.3 percent) 3-point clip through his first eight seasons to a 499-of-1,362 (36.6 percent) mark in his last six.
Sullivan and Budenholzer had previously served as Spurs assistants under Popovich, a job which Sullivan earned largely thanks to a recommendation from his hometown friend, Udoka.
Miles also grew up in Udoka’s hometown of Portland, and the pair share an interesting NBA connection. That’s because if it weren’t for Miles failing his physical ahead of the 2006-07 Portland Trail Blazers campaign, Udoka may have never gotten a chance to sign – and start 75 games – with the Blazers that season.
Miles had an extensive professional playing career, which included one season playing for the Golden State Warriors in 2005-06 and nine years playing overseas.
He then spent two years as a collegiate assistant coach – one at his alma mater, Kansas, and the other at Florida Gulf Coast University – before becoming the head coach of Golden State’s G League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors.
After two years in that role, Miles rejoined the Warriors as a player development coach. Golden State head coach Steve Kerr put Miles in charge of Andrew Wiggins’ development plan after being traded from Minnesota. The pair of former Jayhawks clearly worked well together, as Wiggins wound up having the best shooting campaign of his career this past season.
The Celtics will also be returning two assistant coaches in Mazzulla and Dobbins.
Mazzulla served on Stevens’ coaching staff throughout the past two seasons and was the man in charge of the most recent Summer Celtics squad, which he led to a runner-up finish in Las Vegas. The former West Virginia University point guard is entering his 10th season in the coaching profession, having been an assistant coach and head coach at the college level, as well as an assistant for the Maine Celtics in 2016-17 when they were known as the Red Claws.
Back for his second season as an assistant is Dobbins, a former 13-year pro who was named France's Pro A Best Defensive Player three times from 2009 to 2014. Such defensive prowess has allowed him to be an effective hands-on coach with several of Boston's wings, including Brown and Tatum.
Boston also has one returning member to its player enhancement staff in Bradds, a former Belmont University standout and Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year who has been with the Maine Celtics and Boston Celtics dating back to the 2017-18 season.
After serving for one year as a Celtics video coordinator, Tchiengang will be elevated to the player enhancement staff alongside Bradds. Tchiengang played four years of college basketball at Vanderbilt, one season in the G League, and one professional season overseas before becoming an assistant coach at Monmouth University and a basketball consultant and scout in the Houston area.
Joining as total newcomers to the player enhancement staff are Jackson and MacLeay. Jackson played forward at the University of Southern California and Saint Mary’s College before playing professionally for two years overseas. MacLeay played four years at Bucknell University and spent another four years as a video coordinator for the Philadelphia 76ers, working with Udoka, along with a couple of current Celtics players in Horford and Josh Richardson.