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Jayson Tatum Q&A: Boston's Expectations and Training with Kobe Bryant

Would Jayson Tatum have still gone to Duke if there was no one-and-done rule? Does he agree with teammate Jaylen Brown that the Celtics are making the NBA Finals this season? He answered those questions and more with The Crossover.

Much was made of Jayson Tatum’s age during his dominant rookie season, crows of “He’s only 19!” emanating throughout the basketball landscape. Entering his sophomore campaign, Tatum is no longer a teenager. Yet his youth hasn’t prevented the Celtics scorer from connecting with the cultural trends that came before him. Tatum starred in Foot Locker’s latest creative ad campaign, unearthing a time capsule from his backyard to discover a pair of 1990s-inspired teal Nike Air Max “Origins” tucked inside.

In between commercial shoots and offseason workouts in Los Angeles, Tatum caught up with The Crossover to discuss the NBA’s summer trends, Duke, a fellow member of the 2017 draft class and the Boston’s future.

Sports Illustrated: What’s it like to be a part of this campaign with Foot Locker?

Jayson Tatum: It was great, I had a lot of fun, just helping launch the Nike Air Max Origins at Foot Locker. The idea came from just trying to bring life and ideas from the '90s to the campaign and the shoe as well as the commercial. I had a lot of fun. It came out great. It was an overall success.

SI: Your age was obviously brought up a lot last year, so clearly you weren’t a teenager in the ‘90s. How were you able to develop an affinity for that style?

JT: Growing up with videos and YouTube, being able to see content from the '90s—music and games—that really helped me stay connected with the time before me.

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SI: What’s been your overall routine this offseason and what have you been working on?

JT: Improving my overall game and getting stronger is the biggest focus for me right now, my core and strengthening up my legs, making sure those are good.

SI: You’re training on the court with Drew Hanlen. His reputation has taken off a bit on social media. What is it about Drew that makes him such a great trainer?

JT: His ability to know what guys really need to work on. What’s gonna make them a better basketball player and get them on the court and be successful. Each person’s workout is really different, it’s tailored to be what’s most-needed for them. Everybody’s different.

SI: Markelle Fultz has been training with Hanlen, too. Have you seen his jump shot? How’s it looking?

JT: He’s improving. He’s making strides. He’s gotten a lot better and he should be ready by the time season starts and it’s gonna be exciting for the NBA.

SI: What do you make of the social media aspect of all these offseason workouts, with everything popping up on Instagram and Twitter. LeBron, Kawhi and KD post a picture and the Internet explodes. What do you think of that whole culture?

JT: I think it’s good for the fans. They can’t see us play the game on TV, so social media’s a good way for us to stay connected and they can see all the relationships that you may not know that guys have, a lot of different guys from different teams palying together and working out together. It’s good for basketball.


SI: You’ve also famously worked out with Kobe. As a scoring-wing, a young player who idolized him, what was that experience like?

JT: The overall experience of interacting with him on a personal level—he’s my all-time favorite player—that really meant a lot to me. There were a few things he showed here and there that can help make it easier for me. But just being around him. His mindset that he had going into each year, just to always improve and not backtrack and get better each season as he wanted to continue to grow as a player.

SI: Kobe went right to the league out of high school. You had to spend a year at Duke. With the one-and-done rule soon coming to an end, what are your thoughts on the process of going into the league straight from high school, or maybe the benefits of going to college for a year?

JT: I see both. Obviously, if one-and-done hadn’t been a thing, I would’ve went straight out of high school. But now that I know what I know, I probably would have still went to college and just a year of getting bigger and stronger and playing with talented guys against great competition. But I feel like if you’re ready, you should be able to go out of high school.

SI: Duke has the top one, two and three players from this year’s recruiting class. What is it about Coach K’s recruiting pitch that makes Duke so attractive?

JT: Just how connected he is with all his current players and former players. You see how much guys that used to play always come back and visit whenever they can. That told me a lot about the type of program and the type of guy that he was. It’s not often that guys visit their former college, but every time that I can and numerous others can, they’re always back on campus. It’s just the environment and the people there.  

SI: From one legendary coach to another, what makes Brad Stevens such a tactician compared to everybody else?

JT: He does a great job, he’s young so he can connect well with his players and he finds a good balance to get his players to trust in him. He knows what he’s doing. He puts players in the right spots and most of the time it works.

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SI: There’s a notion that you and Gordon (Hayward), Kyrie (Irving), Jaylen (Brown) and Terry (Rozier) may struggle to share the ball this year. What’s your response to that thought by some people?

JT: We’re all professionals. We’re gonna find a way to make it work. At the end of the day, we all want to win, so everybody has to sacrifice when you want to be a part of something special. It’s not gonna be any different for us.

SI: Jaylen made the claim you guys are absolutely making The Finals. Are you as confident as him?

JT: Man, I’m always going to back up my teammates. I’m not saying that we’re gonna be able to skip steps. We gotta take it one game at a time. I just hope that we stay healthy this year and see what we can do.