MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — From assistant to interim coach, then head coach to All-Star, the last six months have been an absolute whirlwind for Joe Mazzulla.
The former Mountaineer basketball star arrived in Utah and dove into the hectic environment of NBA All-Star weekend on Friday as he prepared to lead Team Giannis in Sunday’s All-Star Game. Amid all the craziness, Mazzulla was able to reflect on his meteoric (and unexpected) rise to one of the top coaches in the sport of basketball.
Just two days before this momentous opportunity in Salt Lake City, however, the basketball world that the Boston Celtics had knocked the “interim” tag off the Coach of the Year frontrunner‘s title, entrusting him with the keys to the team for the foreseeable future.
“It’s a blessing,” Mazzulla said. “I’m very grateful. I appreciate their security and I appreciate their trust in me and how I can just help facilitate and bring the organization to its goal, so I’m very grateful for that.”
NBA media caught Mazzulla in an uncharacteristically jovial mood on Media Day, and the head coach was very open about some of his life outside of basketball. He expressed his admiration for rapper Drake and described how he uses soccer as an inspiration for his coaching on the hardwood. (He revealed his favorite album is Views and he is a Manchester City supporter.)
But of course, basketball paved his road to Salt Lake City this past weekend. In fact, Sunday was Mazzulla’s first game as a head coach without an interim title since March 16, 2019, when his Fairmont State Fighting Falcons fell to Mercyhurst in the NCAA Atlantic Regional.
“Really?” he said. “I’m going to miss that [interim] term I guess a little bit. And my thing is the interim tag was never a thing because we’re all interims and I think you have to kind of have a short-term view but also a long-term, and kind of who we are. As coaches…the game’s not ours, it doesn’t belong to us, and so for however long I’m here, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is the seeds that we plant and the things we’re able to accomplish as a team.”
Mazzulla reiterated that position in the locker room ahead of Sunday’s tip-off. The first-time All-Star coach gave an emotional speech to Team Giannis, which included Jayson Tatum, one of his players in Boston.
“The reason why I came into the league was to let people know and to build a platform of how great a people you are,” he said. “You guys don’t get enough credit, people judge you by your basketball and I want to try to help change that for you. So the person that you guys are are just as important and I like the individual empowerment, I think that’s important, so cherish tonight know that you guys have inspired me…and I love watching people try to be great, and you guys are a bunch of guys who work every day to try to be great, and I appreciate that.”
The speech worked his squad topped Team Lebron 184-175, and Tatum scored a record 55 points with 10 rebounds and six assists.