From Division II Head Coach to NBA Champion: The Inspiring Journey of Celtics Head Coach Joe Mazzulla

From playing college ball and coaching Division II teams to leading the Boston Celtics to their 18th championship banner, Joe Mazzulla’s career deserves a detailed look.

Published on Jun 20, 2024  |  02:54 AM IST |  60.8K
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Joe Mazzulla’s path to becoming NBA Champion has been years in the making. For someone whose experience and abilities were brought into question, the 36-year-old believed in his potential every step along the way. Mazzulla’s basketball journey began in his hometown of Johnston, Rhode Island where he attended Bishop Hendricken High School.

As months went by, Mazzulla quickly became a sensation and eventually earned All-State First Team honors. The first-team select Mazzulla then went on to play a pivotal role in leading Bishop Hendricken to three straight state championships. 

In an Interview with WCVB Channel 5 Boston, the NBA Champion’s high school coach Jamal Gomez shared his memory of Mazzulla as a young athlete:


“He was a young man that was extremely talented, extremely intelligent, and had big goals and big dreams”. Gomez further added, “for me to see where he is now is a beautiful thing. I’m proud of him.” After high school, Mazzulla continued with his desire to play ball and committed to West Virginia University.

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Playing for the West Virginia Mountaineers

Mazzulla arrived in style as a freshman as he helped West Virginia win the 2007 National Invitational Tournament. In his sophomore year, Mazulla improved on his strengths and contributed well off the bench. Here are some of his highlights from this 2008 NCAA second-round matchup:



His 13 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists in the 2008 NCAA Tournament played an important role in eliminating powerhouse Duke from the second round. 

Just when it seemed that Mazzulla’s career began picking momentum, a devastating shoulder injury forced Mazzulla to unwillingly red shirt his Junior season. When he returned next year, Mazzulla didn’t seem like his former self, likely due to the mental stress the injury put him through. 

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And as if things couldn’t get more troubling, Mazulla was arrested for domestic battery and quickly received a suspension.

It was during this tough time in Mazzulla’s life that West Virginia legend Jerry West got in touch with him and motivated him to change his ways. Remembering the basketball legend after his unfortunate passing,

Mazzulla recalled West’s impact in helping him change for the better:


“My junior year in college wasn’t living up to anyone’s standards and I got a call and it was Jerry. A lot of expletives but essentially told me I was a ‘f****up’ and was ruining an opportunity to be great at something and just let me have it for 10, 15 minutes. And i thought it was one of most impactful phone calls that i had really in my life”.


In the 2010 NCAA tournament, Mazzulla helped West Virginia defy expectations and reach the final four. One of WV’s historic victories came against Kentucky in Elite Eight with Mazzulla scoring 17 points. 

Mazzulla finished his senior season with a career-best stat line of 7.7 points, 3.8 boards, and 4.2 assists on 66.9% shooting. 

Humble Beginnings as Coach    

After going undrafted in the 2011 NBA Draft, Mazzulla tried his luck in playing professionally but to no avail. Seeing an opportunity to continue being part of basketball, in the then early twenties Mazzulla joined NCAA Division II Glenville State as an assistant coach.  

After a combined five-year stint with Glenville and Fairmont State, Mazzulla joined the NBA G League’s Maine Red Claws coaching team and served for one year. Later on, in 2017, Mazzulla returned to Fairmont State, this time however, as head coach.

Mazzulla was passionate about his role as head coach and carried out his duties with utmost respect and loyalty for the game. In fact, Mazzulla once even turned down a Celtics assistant coach offer just for the sake of loyalty to Fairmont State.



After two seasons with Fairmont State, Mazzulla eventually signed a multi-year contract with the Celtics as assistant coach. In September 2022, after Ime Udoka’s suspension as head coach due to team policy violations, Mazzulla was appointed Interim head coach for the remainder of the 2022-2023 season. 

His Interim position soon turned full-time in March 2023 and since then, the three-time Eastern Conference Coach of the Month hasn’t looked back. 

With a win/loss record of 121-43 and a win-loss percentage of 73.8%, Joe Mazzulla is amongst the youngest and most successful coaches in basketball and professional sports history. Mazzulla’s journey to success serves as a lesson that despite initial setbacks, time, hard work, and patience will deliver huge rewards. 

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