Ime Udoka: Boston Celtics coach 'always excelled' with Nigeria

Basketball Ime Udoka seated was appointed by Boston Celtics last June after nine years in the NBA as an assistant coach
JUN 16, 2022 LISTEN
Ime Udoka (seated) was appointed by Boston Celtics last June after nine years in the NBA as an assistant coach

In his first season as a head coach in the NBA, Ime Udoka is tantalisingly close to delivering a piece of history.

The 44-year-old Nigerian-American is looking to lead the Boston Celtics to their 18th championship and edge back ahead of the LA Lakers in the all-time list of winners.

But the Celtics are in must-win territory, as they trail Golden State Warriors 3-2 in the best-of-seven NBA Finals - with the sixth game on Thursday evening in Boston (01:00 GMT on Friday).

Udoka turned out for the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, among others, during seven years playing in the NBA.

One former Nigeria team-mate says he is surprised at Udoka's new career despite the latter's knowledge of the game.

"It never crossed my mind that someday he would venture into coaching," Abdulrahman Mohammed told BBC Sport Africa.

"But he was such a great player that when he chose to do anything that has to do with basketball, he always excelled in it. That is how good and great a player he was."

Udoka represented Nigeria in international competition throughout his playing career, earning bronze medals at the African Championships in 2005 and 2011.

Mohammed says Udoka, born to a Nigerian father and an American mother, was an "outstanding" player for the West Africans, and compared his role with D'Tigers to one NBA superstar.

"I learnt a great deal from him during the time we played together," the former shooting guard added.

"Everyone in the team had so much respect for him. He was just the main player at that time, like the LeBron James of the national team.

"Most of our offensive play went through him and he lived up to expectation of carrying the team on his shoulders.

"He led us to qualify for the World Championships, he was such an outstanding player. He was such a great guy, he made a lot of sacrifice for Nigeria.

"I am glad that I got a chance to play with him and I am proud of what he is doing in the NBA now."

Udoka craving consistency to topple Warriors


Udoka played for Nigeria at the Fiba World Championships in 2006

Influential on the court for his country, Udoka has certainly proved his worth since turning to coaching.

He was hired by the Celtics last June following stints as an assistant at the San Antonio Spurs, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Brooklyn Nets.

He helped all those sides reach the NBA play-offs - with the Spurs going on to lift the title in 2014 - and repeated the feat with the Celtics by finishing second in the Eastern Conference with a 51-31 record.

Udoka led his side to series victories over the Nets (4-0), Milwaukee Bucks (4-3) and Miami Heat (4-3) to reach the Finals for the first time since 2010 and set up a showdown with the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors are taking part in their sixth NBA Finals in eight years under Steve Kerr and are hunting a fourth title in that timeframe.

Udoka will have to go the distance to win the championship by taking victory in game six to set up a decider in San Francisco on Sunday.

"For us, it's really about consistency," Udoka said after their 104-94 defeat in San Francisco on Tuesday.

"That's the thing we're not having throughout a full game - consistent efforts, sustained effort, more so offensively than anything.

"That's the part where we got to have carry over, not only game to game but quarter to quarter. Our message is to take it one at a time. We've been here before [and] did it against Milwaukee."

Mohammed - himself a Warriors supporter - hopes Udoka can deliver the a first crown for the Celtics since 2008.

"I think they are really good, they have such a solid team," Mohammed said.

"They have such a great defensive team. They are rated the number one team this year in the NBA.

"Even though I am a Golden State Warriors fan, because of Ime I would not mind if Celtics win the title."