Boston Celtics

Feb 23, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (C) watches from the bench with assistant coaches Ettore Messina (L) and Ime Udoka (R) in the first quarter against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Ime Udoka first broke into coaching working for Gregg Popovich, when he joined the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff following his retirement as a player in 2012. Udoka spent seven years on the Spurs’ bench, and now just two years after leaving has his first head coaching job after being hired by the Boston Celtics. On Tuesday, Popovich was asked about his former assistant coach during a media availability session for Team USA.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled. The guy is a stalwart,” Popovich said. The three-time coach of the year specifically highlighted Udoka’s ability to relate to players, which going into the Celtics’ coaching search was viewed by many as a key trait.

“People overemphasize O’s and X’s in the league. All the coaches know their O’s and X’s. It’s basketball, it’s not analytical geometry or something like that,” Popovich explained. “But to understand how to get the most out of people, to develop relationships with players, to make people accountable and make them want to play for you – are really the keys, and he’s got all that.”

“He’s really a gifted communicator, although with him less is more. He’s not a talker, he’s a communicator,” Popovich continued. “And more than anything, he’s genuine. And you know exactly what you’re getting. And I’m sure that’s what Brad Stevens felt when he interviewed him for the first time.”

Popovich was also asked about Jayson Tatum, who he will be coaching on the international stage for the second time – Tatum was also a member of the 2019 FIBA World Cup team.

“During that (2019) camp and from that time to now, under Brad’s tutelage, he’s become more of a two-way player,” Popovich noted. “He’s way more confident, he’s developed more skills. On top of that [he’s] more aggressive and he knows he can dominate people. He’s much different going into this situation than before.”

With Tatum expected to play a key role for Team USA, and Udoka joining the staff as an assistant coach, there will be a solid Celtics presence in Tokyo for the games, which begin later this month. The team’s biggest star and star coaching hire will have a chance to show what they can do on the national stage.

MORE: Udoka’s Staff To Be Almost All New

Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.