The Celtics announced the suspension of coach Ime Udoka for the 2022-23 season on Thursday evening, and assistant coach Joe Mazzulla is about to get a big opportunity.
Udoka, out for the year because of an “intimate, consensual” relationship with a team staffer that violates team rules, will be replaced by Mazzulla, who will be interim head coach.
Here are four things to know about Mazzulla.
Mazzulla is a former basketball star, too
Like Udoka, Mazzulla, 34, can draw from plenty of playing experience. A Rhode Island native, Mazzulla attended Bishop Hendricken, where he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2018. The Hawks won three state championships during Mazzulla’s career, and he won the third by burying a crucial jumper in the closing seconds.
Mazzulla attended West Virginia, where he helped the Mountaineers win the NIT as a freshman. As a sophomore, Mazzulla scored 13 points to help lift West Virginia to an upset win over Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He pursued overseas opportunities after college but never found a good fit.
Mazzulla is a holdover from Brad Stevens’s coaching staff
When Udoka arrived, he revamped the Celtics’ assistant coaching staff, letting go long-time assistants like Jay Larranaga and Scott Morrison while bringing on newcomers, including Will Hardy, Damon Stoudamire, Aaron Miles, and Ben Sullivan.
Two holdovers remained: Tony Dobbins (who has a good relationship with Jaylen Brown) and Mazzulla, who arrived in 2019 and immediately drew notice for his work with Celtics rookie Romeo Langford, whose shot needed work. Mazzulla taped a ping-pong paddle to Langford’s hand in an effort to keep his thumb off the ball. For the rest of the season, Mazzulla worked with and helped develop Langford. The 22-year-old guard was traded in the deal to acquire Derrick White last season.
Mazzulla had legal issues in college
Mazzulla was charged on three occasions in college. In 2008, he was charged with underage drinking and fighting with police at a Pittsburgh Pirates game. In 2010, he was cited for public urination. In 2009, he allegedly grabbed a woman by the neck at a bar, earning him a suspension. All three incidents reportedly involved alcohol, and Mazzulla’s father Dan later told the Times West Virginian that his son was getting treatment.
“If you see me play and the passion and the emotion that I play with, not being able to play for such a long period of time, I didn’t know where to release that,” Joe Mazzulla said at the time. “I couldn’t find an identity and couldn’t find an outlet.”
Mazzulla has not been charged since those incidents. In March 2010, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins told the New York Times that Mazzulla’s injuries threw him for a loop emotionally.
“Joe struggled,” Huggins said. “He struggled a bunch. To not know whether you’re going to play again and go in and go through the rehab, he was a little screwed up. Anyone who cares as much as he cares would have been.”
Mazzulla has become a well-respected and experienced assistant
When the Jazz conducted their coaching search to replace Quin Snyder this offseason, they interviewed two Celtics assistants: Will Hardy and Mazzulla. Hardy — considered a rising star in coaching circles — got the job, but Jazz executive Danny Ainge got a close look at Mazzulla while he was in Boston and brought him in for an interview.
Mazzulla’s coaching experience began in college. His first job was as an assistant at Glenville State, an NCAA Division 2 school. Two years later, he joined Fairmont State as an assistant. After landing an assistant gig with the then-Maine Red Claws (now the Maine Celtics), Mazzulla returned to Fairmont State for the 2016-17 season as the head coach, leading the school to a 43-17 record over two seasons. In his second year, he led the Falcons to the NCAA Division 2 tournament.
Two years after Mazzulla joined Fairmont State, Stevens brought him on board with the Celtics as an assistant when Purdue hired former Celtics assistant Micah Shrewsberry as an associate head coach.