Hello and welcome back to the sixth edition of Connor’s Corner, where I discuss a standout performance in professional sports and that player’s journey from high school to the professional level. Following a mediocre All-Star Weekend, one player in particular showed the NBA universe why he was representing his team in Salt Lake City: Boston Celtics small forward Jayson Tatum.
Tatum’s fourth All-Star Weekend kicked off last Saturday in the 3-Point Contest, where he put up a weak score of 20 points in the first round, which tied him for fourth place. Unfortunately for him, only the top three scores in the first round make it to the finals; Tatum ended up watching the rest of this Contest from the sidelines. Despite Tatum’s uneventful performance, he still had one more appearance: the NBA All-Star Game. Tatum was snagged up in the starter’s draft second overall by Team Giannis, where he carried them to victory. He made history last Sunday by scoring the most points in All-Star Game history with 55 on 22-31 shooting and 10-18 beyond the arc. Not to mention he snagged 10 rebounds en route to a 184-175 Team Giannis victory.
Incidentally, the Celtics star was matched against fellow teammate Jalen Brown, who scored a Team LeBron-high 35 points. Brown wasn’t too fond of the festivities calling the All-Star game a “glorified layup line.” Despite this, Brown and Tatum delivered exciting stretches where the superstars defended each other and exchanged 3-pointers, which the other contested each time. Postgame, Tatum noted, “We’ve always kind of brought the best out of each other, so it was a normal day for us, just millions of people watching on one of the biggest stages, so just had a little fun with it.”
The Celtics star is having a career year thus far, averaging slightly over 30 points per game (PPG), nine rebounds and five assists per game. His performance has given Boston an NBA-best 42-17 record at the unofficial halfway point in the season. Tatum has been, without a doubt, the leader of a Boston team looking for revenge after falling short last season in the NBA finals to Steph Curry and the Warriors.
Before the fame and fortune, Tatum attended Chaminade College Prep in St. Louis, where he was exceptional from the get-go. As a freshman, Tatum earned second-team MaxPreps All-American honors after averaging over 13 PPG. Tatum broke out as a sophomore averaging 26 points and 11 rebounds a game. Despite these impressive stat lines, Tatum did not win a state championship in his first two years — that changed as he developed his game. As a junior and senior, Chaminade won back-to-back state titles thanks to Tatum — averaging nearly 30 PPG for his last two years — not to mention a laundry list of awards which included 2016 Gatorade Male Athlete of the Year, 2016 McDonald’s All-American honors and a finalist for Naismith Boys High School Player of the Year. These accomplishments helped Tatum tremendously, as he was touted as the No. 3 overall recruit in his class. He committed to Duke University.
While Tatum’s college career was short, it was nonetheless filled with much success. He played 29 games and started in 27. In his tenure with the Blue Devils, he averaged nearly 17 PPG and was named to the ACC All-Freshman Team. An exciting storyline in the Duke forwards’ collegiate career came when Duke was chasing the ACC championship, which included needing to play four games in a row; thanks to Tatum, they won them all.
In the championship match against Notre Dame, Tatum took over. The future NBA star had 19 points and eight rebounds. What wasn’t included on the stat sheet is how Tatum sealed the deal for Duke. With less than two minutes, Tatum was fouled and went 1-for-2 at the charity stripe to give his team a lead. After this, Tatum blocked Steve Vasturia’s drive to the hoop and then went from coast to coast for a layup of his own to give Duke a three-point advantage with a minute and a half left. Duke got another stop, and Tatum all but finished Notre Dame off with an assist to Matt Jones, who made a 3-pointer to up their lead to 71-67 with under a minute left. This, however, was too close for comfort for Tatum, as a couple of plays later he stole the inbound pass and slammed it in for an and-one, giving Duke a 74-69 lead with 25 seconds left. Despite his heroics, Luke Kennard won tournament MVP. However, Tatum shined, averaging 22 points and 7.5 boards in that four-game stretch. Despite the success in conference, Duke exited in the second round in March against South Carolina. After all this, Tatum declared for the NBA draft, where Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics picked him third overall.
In his young career, Tatum has been exceptional. He’s torn up defenses, taken over games that seemed out of reach and created himself quite the NBA career. Tatum has quite the trophy collection, winning many awards from his high school, college and NBA career — and now adds one more with the Kobe Bryant award. While he has had quite the year, he is looking to add one more to his trophy case: the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Tatum has come close to victory, falling two games short last season of being crowned champions. In three of Tatum’s five seasons, the Celtics have made it to at least the conference championship, making the finals only once. Tatum has only gotten better, and if he keeps playing at this MVP level, there is a good chance the Larry O’Brien trophy returns to Beantown.