NEW YORK — Jayson Tatum knocked on his father’s hotel room door at about 9 a.m. on Thursday morning and just wanted to talk about the big day that was ahead.
The former Duke forward wondered how he should shake commissioner Adam Silver’s hand when his name was called in the first round of the NBA Draft. He wondered if he should hug his mother or his father first. He wondered if he might cry. He told his father it was certainly a possibility.
“You can cry all you want,” Justin Tatum told his son. “It’s your day. You worked for this day for 19 years.”
On Thursday night, Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball were selected with the first two picks of the draft. Tatum said he did not know the Celtics had chosen him third until ESPN’s cameras swarmed to his table in the Barclays Center green room. And then it hit him. He was a Boston Celtic, just as he and his family had hoped.
“It feels great just finally knowing where I’m going and having someplace to call home,” Tatum said, standing in a quiet hallway in the bowels of the arena wearing his crisp new Celtics hat. “And I’m glad it’s Boston.”
Tatum averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists during his freshman season at Duke last year. He is a dynamic scorer whose versatility at both ends of the floor should be an asset in coach Brad Stevens’s system.
“He’s a really skilled player, really talented scorer,” Stevens said. “Great kid, great work ethic. We’re excited to have him aboard. We think Jayson can play a variety of positions with a variety of guys. I think that, in this kind of position-less league, those guys are really valuable.”
The Celtics won the No. 1 overall pick at last month’s draft lottery and for weeks it was widely believed they would select Washington point guard Fultz.
But on Saturday, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge shook up the NBA landscape by agreeing to trade the No. 1 pick to the 76ers in exchange for the No. 3 overall choice this year as well as a future first-round selection.
When news of that deal broke, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Tatum and told him that the Celtics wanted to have him in for a workout. Krzyzewski got to know Stevens when he was at Butler, including when their teams met in the 2010 national title game. And he raved about Stevens to Tatum.
The forward said he felt ill on Monday, but completed a workout with the Celtics anyway.
“He never changed his expression,” Stevens said. “[He] went at a high tempo, but when he missed a shot, he never showed anything but resolve to make the next one.”
Later that day, Ainge hinted that he felt there was a good chance the player the team drafted at No. 3 was also the player it would have taken at No. 1.
Justin Tatum said that after hearing Krzyzewski’s endorsement, and after his son spent part of a day in Boston, the family’s preference became clear. They wanted him to become a Celtic.
“Jayson is a learner,” Justin Tatum said. “He absorbs the game like a sponge. Brad is somebody that’s going to challenge him every game, every practice. So I think being under his tutelage is just going to make Jayson a much better player. You’re going to see his skill level come to life.”
Duke assistant coach Jon Scheyer, who was a senior on the Blue Devils team that defeated Stevens and Butler in the 2010 NCAA title game, said Tatum has found the perfect fit.
“I think he’ll do great there,” Scheyer said. “He’s really coachable. You can really get on him hard. He wants to be great, and so with Coach Stevens and his staff, I think he’s going to turn into a star.”
Tatum said he is eager to join a Celtics team that reached the Eastern Conference finals last season, and he excited to get started.
“It’s great I think that I get to learn that much more, especially from a veteran team that knows what it takes to get there,” he said. “I can’t wait to go learn from Coach Stevens and Isaiah Thomas and just everybody on their roster.”
Added Justin Tatum: “What’s going to help Jayson is that he’s going to have an alpha-dog in him, because he has guys like Isaiah and [Jae] Crowder challenging him, making him know what they need him to do. And once he sees that his team trusts him to be able to just be him, he’s going to be a hell of a player.”
When Tatum’s name was announced Thursday he hugged his parents, both of his grandmothers and his agent, and then he took the stage and put on his new hat.
After going through an endless stream of interviews and promotional responsibilities, he finally reunited with his family and was scheduled to celebrate by having a small dinner with them in Manhattan. Then they were planning to board an early flight to Boston on Friday to get this new journey started.
“It was as special as I could have imagined,” Jayson Tatum said, “and that much more.”