First-year Celtics coach Ime Udoka benches player for complaining to refs: ‘That’s not the team we want to be’


Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr was recently asked what advice he would impart to someone starting their first NBA head coaching gig. “You have to be authentic to yourself,” he said. “When players feel that authenticity and honesty, that’s the main thing they want to hear and see.”

We’re not even in the regular season yet, and it seems as if first-year Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka is establishing his own authenticity. At the beginning of camp, Udoka stressed that he didn’t want to see his team excessively complaining to officials. It’s one thing to say that — most coaches do — but it’s another to actually enforce it.

During the Celtics’ 122-100 loss to the Miami Heat in Friday’s preseason finale, Udoka stayed true to his word. Boston forward Grant Williams committed an offensive foul on an illegal screen early in the third quarter and, while he argued with the official, Heat big man Bam Adebayo beat him down court for an easy dunk. You can see Udoka screaming for Williams to get back during the play, and Celtics guard Dennis Schroder appears upset with Williams after the play.

Williams was pulled from the game during the ensuing timeout, which Udoka said was partly because he had picked up his fourth foul, but mostly it was a message that complaining to the refs at the expense of the team is unacceptable.

“The main thing, I’m telling him to get back and stop worrying about the referee — your guy is bringing it right behind you,” Udoka said after the game, via Mass Live. “… When we cried about calls, they were running out and got too many easy looks. So something like I said we talked about early in camp. It’s something I’m going to keep hammering away on until we get where we want to be.”

Players complain about calls in every sport, but those who watch the NBA probably find the habit particularly off-putting. From superstars to 12th men, you see incessant griping about not getting calls, about opponents getting calls, or even when they get the call, but they feel the whistle wasn’t blown fast enough or the was made by the wrong official.

The NBA briefly tried to crack down on the histrionics a couple of seasons ago, making it a point of emphasis to issue rapid technical fouls for outward displays of disgust following calls. That didn’t last long, however, as players must be given some leeway to air their emotions in the heat of competition. Surely there’s a middle ground, and Udoka is trying to find it. He’s told his players to “say one thing and get back if you have to,” but not to lose focus on the game.

“You guys play through plays and move onto the next thing and let me be the guy that complains to the refs.” Udoka said early in camp. “But that’s not the team we want to be and that’s not who I am, so I don’t want the team to start crying about every call.”





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