The Boston Celtics of the NBA announced last week that Johnston native Joe Mazzulla would be promoted to interim head coach for the upcoming season after the suspension of Ime Udoka.
Mazzulla, 34, was a star basketball player at Bishop Hendricken and went on to play for West Virginia. His coaching stops include a stint as the head coach of Division II Fairmont State, and prior to that, Mazzulla was an assistant for the Celtics’ D-League affiliate Maine Red Claws.
He has been an assistant under Brad Stevens and Udoka for the past three seasons and is now set for his first chance at a head coaching role in the world’s top basketball association.
Although his head coaching experience was limited to two years of college ball, Mazzulla is confident in himself and the lessons he learned while on the bench at Fairmont.
“You’re never really ready. I have been a head coach before and what I learned from year one to year two was that I wasn’t ready. It’s not because I didn’t work at it, it wasn’t because I didn’t prepare. There are certain things that you have to learn on the job and year two was much different than year one for me. I am really able to pull from those experiences,” said Mazzulla at a press conference on Monday afternoon in Boston.
Mazzulla inherits a team that is coming off an NBA Finals appearance and features some of the league’s fastest rising stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Mazzulla’s focus from here on will be building off of last year’s success while maintaining a strong relationship with the players on the roster.
“The most important thing for me is making sure that the players and myself are on the same page. Making sure that we are focused on the preparations that we have for this season from a basketball standpoint and how we move forward together building trust and building relationships,” said Mazzulla. “The great thing about this organization and the players that we have and the season that we had last year, we have a formula for what we know we need to do in order to get better every single day and get back to where we want to get to.”
Mazzulla comes from Rhode Island’s most famous basketball family. His father, Danny, was a standout player at Johnston and then went on to have a hall of fame career at Division I Bryant. He then became a state championship coach at Johnston High when he coached the girls team. He passed away in 2020 after a battle with brain cancer.
Joe’s younger brother, Justin, is coming off a March Madness appearance with the University of Vermont and will be coaching at URI this winter.
Former Johnston girls coach Chris Corsinetti, who is a family friend of the Mazzulla’s and was Dan’s assistant with the girls program, is thrilled for Joe’s promotion.
“The buzz is insane. I reached out to Joe and he is such a humble young man. All I can think of is Danny and how proud he must be. It’s pretty amazing. It’s a proud moment for them all. Just to have a Rainone Gym guy, that’s where it all started. When Joey left, he was a 17-year-old boy and he came back a very wise young man. The Rainone Gym community and the Johnston community are very proud of him. His future is extremely bright,” said Corsinetti.
Current Johnston boys coach Mike Bedrosian is also close to the Mazzulla family and is excited to see their name be recognized in the national spotlight.
“The Mazzulla name in Rhode Island is a staple. He made his dad proud and he made it even more of a staple. To be the head coach of an NBA team, especially at just 34 years old, it just shows how much respect he has from the players. He’s getting that Mazzulla name looked at by hall of fame coaches and players. LeBron James now knows who Joe Mazzulla is,” said Bedrosian.
One of Joe’s childhood friends and current Exeter-West Greenwich coach Dave DelFino believes he will enjoy immediate success thanks to his knowledge and leadership abilities. DelFino played with Joe as a youth all the way through their time at Hendricken.
“Joe’s an incredible leader and has an incredible work ethic. He fully trusts the process of not rushing things and learning as he goes. There is premier NBA talent that respects him, and when the moment gets big, he is able to ground himself, especially for a 34-year-old. He’s very intelligent, has a great basketball IQ. He’s a great coach and now he gets to lead arguably the greatest basketball team in the world,” said DelFino.
Corsinetti echoed those sentiments.
“I think Joe is extremely prepared, he climbed the ranks from Division II college to the D-League then the Celtics staff. He is a student of the game, he understands the game, he understands people, he understands culture, relationships. He is certainly prepared, I have no doubt in my mind that he is going to succeed,” said Corsinetti.
As Joe gets ready to take on his biggest challenge yet, the local hoops community will be in his corner to celebrate his achievements, as well as the memory of his father, who was by his side throughout his career.
“My heart aches for Danny not being able to enjoy this with him, but I know that he is looking down on him and is proud of all the hard work that he has put in. It’s nice to have someone in the Johnston community get to this level because a lot of these guys want to get into coaching. It shows that anything is possible,” said Bedrosian.
DelFino added: “Johnston and Rhode Island are a very well-kept secret for the basketball world. The athletics world in general. I think this speaks volumes about Danny and his legacy.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here