5 takeaways as Jayson Tatum talks Bradley Beal, more at Team USA

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Celtics

“We just want the extreme best for each other.”

Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal of the 2021 USA Basketball Men’s National Team talk after practice at the Mendenhall Center at UNLV as the team gets ready for the Tokyo Olympics. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal grew up five minutes apart in St. Louis. Their families were friends. Both attended Chaminade High School, both were lottery picks, and both played on the same team in last year’s NBA All-Star Game.

Now, they’re both Olympians.

“Playing with my big brother, two guys from the same neighborhood, same high school, going to the Olympics from St. Louis, that’s like a dream,” Tatum told reporters via Zoom on Wednesday. “That is amazing.”

“I don’t know if that’s ever happened for USA Basketball,” Beal added.

Tatum and Beal have been asked repeatedly about their relationship over the years, often by reporters beating around the bush wondering if they might team up someday.

On Wednesday, a reporter asked Beal how much recruiting happens when the stars gather to represent their country for international competitions.

Beal wisely pretended not to know.

“Probably a lot,” he said. “I don’t know. It depends on who is a free agent or not.”

Beal’s answer was evasive but fair, even though the Olympics are a well-documented opportunity for connections to form.

Beal, of course, wasn’t about to divulge that information via Zoom. For the record, he will be a free agent in 2023.

“For the most part, we can’t mix that in right now,” Beal said. “We’re focused on one goal at hand, and that’s bringing back the gold medal. Granted we all have our respective individual goals and talents once this is done — we can address those issues then.”

But Tatum and Beal are excited to play together in whatever capacity presents itself.

“This is definitely exciting for both of us. I’m happy about his growth,” Beal said. “I’m excited to see him on the global stage just as well as myself and everybody. We have a really good team, but Jayson and I have a special relationship and I’m looking forward to it, man. It’ll be exciting.”

Tatum concurred.

“[Beal] was the mentor/older brother that I didn’t technically have in-house, somebody that just accomplished everything that I was trying to do,” Tatum said. “I’ve seen how to do it firsthand. …

“We just want the extreme best for each other and just two guys that play at a very high level that always are pushing each other. He scores 50 or something, I’m trying to do it and vice versa. That’s just kind of the relationship we have.” 

Here are other takeaways from Tatum’s availability.

FIBA failures motivated Tatum to play for Team USA

Tatum played on the disappointing Team USA squad that finished seventh at the world championships in 2019 until he sprained his ankle in the early going, which ended his run. Gregg Popovich told reporters the team was deeply disappointed to lose Tatum, who they saw as a foundational piece.

That disappointing finish was tough for Tatum to stomach.

“So much time is invested from training camp, spending all this time together, long flights, going to different countries, so I was hurt emotionally when I hurt my ankle and wasn’t able to play,” he said. “I wanted to be out there with those guys and finish what we went there to go do.

“It didn’t happen, so I think that’s one of the reasons I was so eager to come play this time around. I kind of had a sour taste in my mouth after the last experience.”

Tatum believes “change is good sometimes”

Celtics reporters spoke to Tatum after the team bowed out of the NBA playoffs with a loss to the Brooklyn Nets on a Thursday.

By Saturday, the team had a new President of Basketball Operations and a vacant head coaching position. A few weeks later, they had a new head coach and several new assistants. The organization underwent a full makeover in a short period of time.

This Wednesday, reporters finally had a chance to ask Tatum about president Brad Stevens and head coach Ime Udoka, as well as Kemba Walker’s departure and Al Horford’s arrival.

“It was a lot at first,” Tatum said. “All the changes, especially with the coaches and front office. But change is good sometimes. I’m excited about our new coach, Ime.”

Tatum added that he approved of all of the finalists in the coaching search.

“I had somewhat of a relationship with all of them, and I basically told him you can’t go wrong,” Tatum said. “That’s their job, the front office to make those decisions, and it’s my job to go out there and play.

“From the conversations that I’ve had with [Udoka] since he’s gotten the job, I can tell he’s really, really excited. It’s going to be fun, and we’re going to try to accomplish something big.”

Tatum added that he hates to see one of his “close guys” go in Kemba Walker, but he wished him the best.

“Happy to have Al back,” Tatum added. “He looked better in green anyway.”

Physically, Tatum feels good.

After a lengthy stretch of basketball that included the bubble, a full regular season, and a playoff run (which was admittedly brief), many Celtics fans found Tatum’s decision to play for Team USA concerning.

But Tatum said he feels good physically.

“I feel refreshed,” he said. “Had some good time off. All in all, I feel pretty good.”

And finally, yes, you can expect plenty of recruiting.

Tatum and Beal are childhood friends. Tatum noted that he has known Bam Adebayo since middle school. The photo at the top of this story depicts Tatum and Beal laughing with Damian Lillard.

“Just the relationships you build with these guys, we’re going to be together for six or so weeks, and really just together,” Tatum said. “So just building those relationships.”

Make what you will of that.

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