An NBA Coach’s Journey from FedEx to the Best of the Best

BOSTON – Ime Udoka is always willing to give advice. But his players know how limited he thinks he can teach them. Sometimes, he has to tell them.

So Udoka would jump on the phone and call old friends from the community. These are former high school friends, hoopers he knows from the playground and even a few friends who have played abroad. The claim made by Udoka has become a familiar one: can they swing by practice and keep its children strong?

“They’re older, stronger and smarter, and they just ran us out of court.” says Mike Moser, who played for the first team that Udoka coached. “But you will learn.”

As Garrett Jackson, another former player, said: “They will punk us.”

Udoka, 44, has since made an appearance in his first season at the Celtics, where his Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Milwaukee Bucks was tied at a pre-Game 3 game Saturday. . But back when Udoka was still walking in the NBA court as a defensive forward, he was already planning for his future – by training youngsters in his break time.

For four summers, from 2006 to 2009, Udoka oversaw the I-5 Elite, an Amateur Athletic Union team he helped develop in Portland, Ore.

He said “I got cockroaches around these guys,” he said.

With the I-5 Elite, Udoka jumped into practice. He washes his players’ dirty socks. Knowledge, he told them, is not as important as effort. Along with Kumbeno Memory and Kendrick Williams, two childhood friends who ran the team with him, Udoka looks like I-5 elite in his no-frills image. His former players have seen him use the same plan for the Celtics, which makes the coins in Game 2 of their series. Marcus Smart, in his eighth season with Boston, became the first manager since Gary Payton in 1995-96 to win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award.

“The most important thing I learned from Ime was the ability,” said Moser, who now coaches the women’s volleyball team at the University of Oregon. “You can not know Ime without knowing what he has become and he brought him to the NBA. It’s almost bad when you think about it.”

Udoka grew up in Portland enjoying baseball, a student of the sport who crossed his hobby to play hoops. He appeared to be the NBA hopeful of Portland State, only breaking his knee before the draft. Different careers followed, including a match with Fargo-Moorhead Beez of the International Basketball Association. After breaking his knee again, Udoka spent the next several years transporting trucks to FedEx, hoping for another breakout of the NBA. date of contract.

When Udoka finally landed with the Trail Blazers in 2006, it was the rest he needed and started a good career that included two seasons and a third with the San Antonio Spurs. It was also announced at a time when Nico Harrison, chief business officer of Nike, donated a few dollars to Udoka to form the AAU team, Memory said. It’s something Udoka has been talking about doing with his friends for years, and now they can make it happen. (Harrison is now the director of the Dallas Mavericks.)

Over time, AAU basketball has become known as a breeding ground for high-quality football. Udoka, however, will do everything his way, which means the hard way.

“We never got to roll the ball out of there,” Udoka said. “We are teaching them to play. Standards, discipline, protection – all I can say. And that’s how I became an athlete. “

Memory and Williams hold X’s and O’s – Udoka, as strange as it is now, is not recognized as a coach – but it is Udoka’s job, Williams said. At the end of Udoka NBA season, he will rush to the airport to meet with the I-5 Elite.

“You have to watch him play on TV for Spurs, and then he will be in the playroom with you tomorrow,” Jackson said.

The I-5 Elite first recruiter was Moser, who, as the 15-year-old went ahead, feared that the NBA player – from his hometown, no less – had expressed his displeasure. . Udoka worked with Moser at the Trail Blazers internship and invited him outside to play. But Udoka also guessed it. From his place on the bench, Udoka noticed that Moser liked to stand around when friends started shooting. Udoka wants him to seek revenge.

“Do not look, Moser,” Udoka shouted. “Have a look.”

Moser finally gets the message. (Actually, he had no choice.) Then, as a sophomore at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Moser appeared to be one of the nation’s leading rebounders.

There are many professional teams in the national circuit. But Udoka, along with Memory and Williams, clicked the I-5 Elite title for any loss of ability. The practices during the holidays were very strict. Udoka has a vagina for workers and adhesives, for consumers who treat everything like it is the final test. One of these players is Jeff Dorman. Udoka has always welcomed other coaches for Dorman, even though he was playing after Terrence Ross, who had an NBA career before him.

“Dorman is an unsigned old man,” Memory said, “and Ime would be like: ‘Let Dorman get out of there, man. I think he has something. Give him time. ‘”

Dorman attended Clackamas Community College, where he co-chaired the conference, and at Seattle Pacific, Division II.

Communication, Udoka understands, is not a big-fit-all. Some players need more discipline while others need more support. Some are from the suburbs while others are from the city. So Udoka adjusted his way, seeking to learn as much as possible about each of them. He gave them a ride to practice. He dined with their family. He knew, even then, that relationships were important for training, he said. But he refuses to follow his example.

“It’s not difficult for them and hold them accountable,” Udoka said.

Sometimes, it adds inspiration. The group, Moser said, were attacked by poor practice one afternoon when Udoka stopped the trial: Who needs $ 100? The winner of the next round will take the prize.

“And it’s $ 100 per player, man,” Moser said. “I’m not cheap.”

The temperature at the gym goes from hot to molten.

“There was some crime going on in prison,” Moser said. “But that’s what he encouraged us to do – a tough skin group.”

Jackson recalled that he was on his way to compete with the I-5 Elite when his college staff got hot. Returning from the hotel one night, he got a phone call from a college instructor who was curious about Udoka: What he liked to be around? At that moment, Jackson said, Udoka was out around the corner at the button of the sweater.

“The man in the NBA,” Jackson said, and he was doing laundry at the hotel.

As it became clear to him that he would have a future in training, Udoka worked on his craft, attending medical classes taught by NBA members. In 2012, Gregg Popovich, coach of Spurs, was called up to take up his role as an assistant. Udoka competes with the decision: Does he want to close the book on his playing career?

“And it’s weird because he’s so often very determined,” Moser said. “I remember talking to him for hours. And then he just decides: ‘You know what? I will do it. ‘

Udoka never looked back. He spent nine seasons as an NBA assistant before the Celtics hired him last summer, and he brought some face-to-face with him. Among them: Jackson, 30, who joined Udoka staff as a support for the players.

“When he got the job, I knew I wanted to help him,” Jackson said. “I do not know what the role will be, and I do not care. I’m like, ‘I will do whatever you want me to do.'”

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