This probably isn’t how Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla envisioned his ascension to the front of an NBA bench going.
The 34-year-old officially was confirmed as Boston’s new interim coach Friday in wake of the organization’s season-long suspension for Ime Udoka. Mazzulla, whose only head-coaching experience came at the Division II collegiate level, is now tasked with leading the defending Eastern Conference champions.
That alone probably adds some stress and anxiety to Mazzulla’s plate. Making matters even more uncomfortable, is Mazzulla being shoved into the spotlight also brings forth some unsavory events of his past.
Mazzulla faced legal problems in college at West Virginia. The Rhode Island native was charged with underage drinking and aggravated assault in 2008, and that was followed by a suspension from the Mountaineers when he was arrested on charges of domestic battery. He then was cited for public urination in 2010 while still at West Virginia.
Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens was asked about Mazzulla’s checkered past in a press conference Friday, and he believes Mazzulla is a changed man. Stevens is confident in Mazzulla’s maturation and ability to lead the Celtics.
“When we were considering hiring him as an assistant, I vetted that and the incidents when he was in college really thoroughly,” Stevens acknowledged Friday. “I will tell you this: I believe strongly in Joe’s substantiveness as a person. He’s been very open with me about how those moments impacted him in every which way. You can see that in the way he carries himself ? I believe strongly that probably shaped him into who he is today in a really, really good way. He’ll be the first to tell you he’s 100% accountable for that, and I’ll be the first to tell you I believe him.”
Mazzulla has done well to avoid trouble since his college days, and he’s certainly not the first college kid to have alcohol-related problems on campus. And if the Celtics had any concerns about those problems resurfacing, he probably wouldn’t have landed the job.
One thing that seems like a certainty, though, is Stevens himself is not going to go downstairs and reassume the role of head coach. This is Mazzulla’s team now, at least for a season — for better or worse.