BOSTON — Johnston native Joe Mazzulla is the Boston Celtics' interim head coach, the team announced at a Friday morning press conference. At 34, Mazzulla will be the youngest head coach in the NBA this season.
Boston's former coach, Ime Udoka, has been suspended for the 2022-23 season for violating team rules. Udoka reportedly had an intimate consensual relationship with a team staff member.
"Joe's gonna be in charge. He's an exceptionally sharp and talented person," said Brad Stevens, the Celtics' president of basketball operations. "I believe in Joe's leadership."
Stevens, who had been the team's head coach prior to becoming the team's president, was asked if he considered stepping back in as head coach.
Previous reporting: Celtics suspend coach Ime Udoka; RI's Joe Mazzulla could be interim coach
"Joe's the best choice to do that, by a long shot," he said.
Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck spoke of getting to know Mazzulla well during the team's 2021-22 postseason run, said, "He is just passionate.... He's a special guy."
Mazzulla joined the Celtics as an assistant coach prior to the 2019-20 season. He was hired by current president of basketball operations Brad Stevens and continued on staff under Udoka, who succeeded Stevens ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.
Mazzulla has previous head coaching experience at Division II Fairmont State, leading the program to an NCAA Tournament bid in 2018-19. The Falcons were a combined 43-17 in Mazzulla’s two seasons before he departed for the professional ranks. Mazzulla had existing ties with Boston after serving as an assistant with its G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, in 2016-17.
Mazzulla is a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year at Bishop Hendricken in 2004 and 2005. He captured an NIT title and reached a Final Four during his college career at West Virginia, which spanned from 2006-11. Mazzulla was named team captain for the 2009-10 season and played in 145 games, finishing with 700 points and 370 assists.
While in college, Mazzulla was arrested in 2008 and 2009, suspended from basketball activities by the Mountaineers for part of the 2009 offseason and cited for public urination in 2010. Charges included underage drinking, aggravated assault and domestic battery. Mazzulla sought treatment following his second arrest and has reportedly been sober for the past 12 years.
Asked about his run-ins with the law, Stevens spoke about vetting Mazzulla when he was first hired in Boston, and again expressed confidence in the man Mazzulla is today.
"I believe in him," Stevens said.
Friday's announcement means that Mazzulla would become what is believed to be the first Rhode Island native to serve as an NBA head coach.
Udoka issued a statement late Thursday night, once the suspension became official: "I want to apologice to our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization and my family for letting them down," he said.
Grousbeck said no decisions have been made about Udoka's future. The Celtics will open training camp on Tuesday.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Boston Celtics: Joe Mazzulla, a RI native, named head coach