Jarell Christian Ready To Make Impact With Boston Celtics As G League Head Coach
Jarell Christian has traveled to Portland, Maine just twice — both as an opposing coach to face the Maine Red Claws, now known as the Maine Celtics. That is set to change, however, as Christian officially was named head coach of the Boston Celtics G League affiliate Thursday morning.
Christian has a clear vision for what he wants this program to look like, and it’s perfectly aligned with that of Brad Stevens. During the 2019 season, Stevens often spoke about the importance of having a G League system that reflected the parent club’s habits and best practices. If a two-way player is called up, the goal is to have it be as seamless a transition as possible. Christian, who has tremendous experience at the G League level, knows the benefits of a program with that in mind, but for the Virginia native, it all starts with quality relationships.
“One thing about me is I’m a genuine person. I care about people. I’m a relationship-based person. That’s how I do my best work,” Christian said. “Forming and building positive relationships with not just the players, but the staff and everyone in the organization. The organizations that I have been fortunate enough to work with have done a great job seaming the two programs together because they had great relationships between the two. They wanted to have a kind of symmetry with one another. The coaches from the parent club would be invested with what was happening in the G League with their team and their players. They wanted to know if their players were getting better, they wanted to see film, they wanted to attend practices. It takes a village, you know?”
Stevens, now the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, has expressed this to Christian, just as he has in the past when publicly speaking about the relationship between Boston and Maine.
“When you have that type of environment, where NBA folks are invested just as much in the G League sometimes as much as their own team, the players feel it, the coaches feel it, the staff members feel it – it gives the program a family atmosphere, which is what Brad (Stevens) has expressed to me that he’s going for,” Christian said. “He wants it to be seamless with the two. Whether it’s exhibit 10 guys transitioning to the G League season or two-way guys going up and down or assignment guys, he wants it to be a good environment – a learning environment and a place where they can go and feel like their development is at the forefront.”
Christian is no stranger to putting player development front and center — his resume speaks for itself. The Virginia native spent four years with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s G League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue, where he worked with the likes of Mark Daigneault, Monty Williams, Maurice “Mo” Cheeks and Adrian Griffin. In his second season (2015-16), Daigneault got called up to the Thunder staff, allowing Christian to take on interim head coaching duties for 16 games. When Daigneault, now the Thunder head coach, returned for the following two years, Christian served as his lead assistant. The experience in Oklahoma City was invaluable, according to Christian, who noted that he was able to learn from and build relationships with some brilliant basketball minds thanks to the Blue’s proximity to its parent club.
“That’s the good thing about the Thunder organization,” he said. “Even when the G League season is not in session, you’re still with the Thunder full time — you’re in practice, drills, pre-practice, summer league, draft workouts, playoff prep — all of that with the parent club, which is really good. You get to build a lot of relationships with guys you wouldn’t have normally if you were just around for a G League season. You really start to build those relationships, so that’s how I got close with Monty (Williams), Adrian Griffin and Mo Cheeks. All of those guys are close to me now because of my interactions with them during the offseason. That was special.”
Christian’s time in Oklahoma City earned him a new job during the 2018-19 season when he served as the first-ever head coach of the Capital City Go-Go, the G League affiliate of the Washington Wizards. After a successful inaugural season, Scott Brooks and general manager Tommy Sheppard expressed a desire to increase Christian’s role within the organization, which ultimately moved him to the Wizards staff as an assistant for the last two seasons. From player development to defensive coordination, Christian served as a vital member of Brooks’ staff during his time in Washington. That versatility should help the Maine Celtics find success during the 2021-22 season.
Equally as important, however, is Christian’s familiarity with the uniqueness of the G League. Every player and coach is fighting to make it to the next level, while simultaneously dealing with a lack of resources. It’s a lot to juggle while managing a team and heading player development, but Christian has done it before and remains well aware of the situation at hand.
“Walking into most G League situations, you have to understand the challenges that you’re going to face,” Christian said. “You’re going to face players not getting paid like NBA players or living the lifestyle of an NBA player. The facilities they’re playing in, for the most part, are not NBA facilities and the resources are not NBA resources in a lot of places. You just have to understand the challenges that you’re walking into.”
Christian will work with Ime Udoka’s staff in Boston through training camp before heading up to Maine in mid-October. Alex Barlow, who previously served as Erman’s lead assistant with the Red Claws, will be the associate head coach under Christian, according to sources, creating a great duo at the top of the Maine Celtics staff. For now, however, Christian will work to get on the same page as Udoka and Stevens in Boston.
“It starts with Brad and Ime (Udoka) and all of us being on the same page. The closer I am with Ime and understanding how he wants this program to be run, the better I can mimic that up in Maine,” he added. “The thing that I always go to is that I want to be sure that the players are leaving our program better than they were when they came in. That’s just being able to provide a lifestyle for themselves or their family as a result of the work and effort that we all put into them.”