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Having broken their silence, what did the Celtics players have to say about Ime Udoka’s suspension?

As the saga continues to unfold, we’ve now got the thoughts and feelings of the players and their new head coach.

Having broken their silence, what did the Celtics players have to say about Ime Udoka’s suspension?
Maddie MalhotraAFP

Though there is still a great deal that is unclear, we’ve now got some perspective on what the players themselves think of their coach’s suspension and how the team intends to move forward.

What do we know about the Ime Udoka scandal so far?

By now, you must have heard that the Boston Celtics suspended head coach Ime Udoka for the entire 2022-23 season as a result of “violations of team policies.” What we were initially made to understand, was that Udoka had maintained a consensual, but improper relationship with a female team staff member. Said staff member, would later allege that Udoka made unwanted comments towards her which in turned prompted an investigation. From there, we saw Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens - just last week - announce that assistant Joe Mazzulla would be taking over as interim head coach for the season. There has been no further word on Udoka’s status.

The Boat has been Rocked: Celtics players in shock

Given the events of the past week, the Celtics’ media day on Monday was always going to be a hot ticket. Both Mazzulla and the players gave their thoughts on what has transpired in recent days and it made for some interesting listening, to say the least. Indeed, one by one players described the shock they felt when they initially learned about the situation surrounding Udoka. Twitter - like most - was the place where Jayson Tatum learned of his coach’s infraction and subsequent punishment. “It’s an unfortunate situation,” Tatum said. “Nobody expected this coming into the season. We were all caught off guard by everything but we gotta try to move forward and play basketball.”

Marcus Smart on the other hand, spoke of a recent visit that he received from Udoka which led him to believe everything was as it should be. “It’s been hell for us,” Smart said. “Just caught by surprise. Nobody really knows anything so we’re just in the wind just like everybody else. The last couple days have been confusing.” There was also teammate Jaylen Brown, who alluded to the fact that a great deal was not shared with the players. “Initial reaction is we were all shocked what was going on, a little confused,” Brown said. “But a lot of that information wasn’t being shared with us or members of the team so we can’t really comment on it.”

A Lack of Clarity: Players still don’t have all the information

Here’s something to consider. The franchise opened an investigation on the grounds of a complaint by a female staff member. They’ve also got to protect the privacy of all parties involved, which means transparency is not applicable. That of course leads to all manner of speculation. Further still, is the uncertainty and frustration likely felt by players who - as far as they are concerned - have been kept out of the loop. One could say it’s the very definition of a catch-22 that the Celtics face as they head towards training camp.

“It’s gonna be something that we have to address as a group,” Brown said. “We’ve started that process as a group but not a lot of information has been shared. There’s a lot of confusion going around, a lot of speculation going around, which makes it difficult on the guys that’s been here, the guys that are here now. What we do is do our jobs and that’s what we’re here for. Try to put our best foot forward and do what we gotta do. I wish we had more details. From what we know it’s hard to make a decision based on whether it’s consensual or not in the workplace or whatever’s going on. We know that’s happened before in the workplace, but there’s more to it possibly, which we don’t know. I don’t know, I don’t have the details, it’s not being shared with me. It’s hard to really comment on something when you’re not filled in with all the details. I don’t really have a feeling or a comment on my emotions about it because I don’t have the details.”

Celtics focus on what they can control

Given how much is up in the air for the team, it would appear that the players are at the least focusing on what they can affect. “The initial reaction was literally a state of shock,” Marcus Smart said. “We couldn’t believe what we were hearing and especially at the time we were hearing it right before media day. It’s hitting us from all angles. We’re trying to figure it out just like everybody else. Everybody was at the meeting, we wanted to know and they told us what they knew and we go from there. It’s frustrating from all ends of not knowing, not understanding because you don’t know. So just try to focus on the things you can control.”

Indeed, this is now most definitely a situation which requires control. Having made it to the NBA Finals this past season, there was already a degree of pressure and expectation. Add to that, an extremely controversial off-court saga concerning their coach just before training camp and you couldn’t have scripted a better plot twist. “I don’t know if there’s a perfect answer,” Tatum said. “Honestly, it’s been a lot. Coming off last season looking forward to coming in this year and then all these things transpired. The best thing that can happen is that we just start practice tomorrow and start playing basketball.”

Joe Mazzulla has a past, but ‘basketballically’ speaking is he the right fit?

At 34 years old, Mazzulla is younger than Al Holford and to be perfectly honest, has only been an assistant coach for three seasons. To say he’s inexperienced would be stating the obvious, but in truth more has been made of his past infractions, which have included a domestic battery charge from his college days while attending West Virginia. Allegedly, MazzullaI put his hands on a woman’s throat back in 2009. Stevens himself has since personally vouched for Mazzulla even going as far as to say that he had vetted the young assistant and that he was the right man for the job. That being said, one can imagine that many were waiting to hear from the man himself.

“I’ve made mistakes,” Mazzulla said. “I’m not perfect. I’ve hurt people and I’ve had to use the situations I put myself in as a younger man I’ve had to use to learn from and become a better person. That’s what I’ve tried to focus on. How can I recreate my identity as a person, how can I rely on my faith and how can I have a positive impact on the people around me. I’m not the same person that I was. As you grow as a person, you’re constantly having to build an identity. I didn’t have an identity at a certain point in my life for whatever reason. It’s how can I develop an identity, how can I find a foundation - which for me is my faith - and then how can I impact people positively around me and that’s something that I really learned throughout my life.”