Jayson Tatum’s dad Justin Tatum wants to win NBL title with Illawarra Hawks after mid-season coaching revival

The father of NBA superstar Jayson Tatum believes the Illawarra Hawks can “win the whole thing” after taking over the NBL club’s coaching reins mid-season and leading a stunning revival.

The Hawks sacked coach Jacob Jackomas after a dismal 2-7 start to the season but have looked like a different team since Justin Tatum was appointed interim coach in November, winning seven games and losing just three times under Tatum.

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It’s a tough task coaching an NBL team not in a major market like Sydney, Melbourne or Perth — the last championship winner not from those three cities came back in 2015.

But Tatum, 44, is confident the Hawks can go all the way and win the title after rising to sixth on the ladder, which would be enough to qualify for the NBL finals.

“When I took over, for sure I wanted to win the whole thing,” Tatum told news.com.au.

“When I got here as an assistant coach I wanted to win the whole thing. My goals haven’t changed. It’s just been enhanced since we started to get some wins and build our confidence.

“It’s definitely to be one of the top six teams to make it to the playoffs — that’s one goal. The other is to win the whole thing.

“I feel personally I have the pieces. We have experience as far as the type of players that we have — former NBA players, guys who’ve won championships and been in the NBL before, guys who’ve had a lot of success and are just starting to put that continuity together.

“My goal is to win the whole thing, but we’re going to take it game by game.”

Expectations were low for the Hawks at the start of the season after the departure of legendary coach Brian Goorjian and centre Duop Reath, who has since made his NBA debut and cemented his place on the Portland Trail Blazers’ roster.

But the Hawks have pulled off some statement victories including a Christmas Day upset over defending champions the Sydney Kings and a thrilling one-point win over the Tasmania JackJumpers.

There’s no doubt Tatum, a successful high school coach in the US, is connecting with his playing group.

“Team moral and where we’re sitting in a headspace right now is pretty good,” he said.

“They’re confident. We’re starting to really gel together at practice and on the court, which has been helping us get some wins. I’m in a good spot. The guys are coming to work every day with smiles.

“I feed off their energy. I’m an energetic coach. I’m very vocal, I’m demanding but I’m respectful. I’m a players’ coach. They’ve given me everything.

“You’re a professional player, you’re here for a reason and this is the reason why I need you to play like this. And the guys have accepted it so it’s been great to coach.”

Sharpshooter Tyler Harvey is Illawarra’s most prolific scorer, but a couple of other players have caught Tatum’s eye.

“I really love Mason Peatling,” he said.

“He’s very high level, vocal, physical, great teammate — which they all are — but he is really noticeable in those areas.

“Todd Blanchfield is another one of those guys who is a team player first, very vocal. Without knowing too much about those guys until I got here, I really fell in love with how they approach the game and how they want their teammates to be successful. Those guys are two that stand out.”

Illawarra’s sudden rise under Tatum has even placed pressure on the club to lock the American in as the team’s long-term coach.

“My focus is to do what they asked me to do — take this team over and finish the season out the best way we can and then we’ll go searching from there,” he said.

“But I know success has put a lot of pressure on them (the Hawks) to start those talks, which will happen and I have no problem with it. I’m definitely going to be very open to seeing what they can do for the future.

“But as for now, day by day, game by game, I just worry about how many games can we win. And we can have those talks before I go back home.

“It’s a blessing to be in that situation but my focus is on winning games. All those double headers coming up, where we started from and where we have the opportunity to get to. I don’t want us to be sidetracked.”

The success of LaMelo Ball and Josh Giddey has shown the NBL can be the perfect pathway to the NBA for young players, and Tatum said the same can be true for coaches.

Trevor Gleeson won five NBL titles with the Perth Wildcats and is now an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks, while Chase Buford is chasing an NBA coaching gig after leading the Sydney Kings to the last two NBL championships.

“I’ve had a lot of success in high school over the years and I wanted to see where else I could take myself as a coach,” Tatum said.

“That’s why I came out here in the NBL to learn the professional game. I see other coaches in the NBA in the NBL — maybe the same age or the same coaching experience — have an opportunity to expand their coaching. I felt like I could do the same thing.

“NBA for sure is in my sights, but if I can come in and be a high level successful NBL coach living out in Australia, you can’t beat that.”

Tatum is following the NBA closely this season, given his son Jayson is the best player on the Boston Celtics, who boast the league’s best record approaching the halfway mark of the marathon season.

Jayson congratulated his dad on his appointment at the Hawks, and Justin is hopeful the Celtics can claim the NBA championship this year after falling short in several deep playoff runs in recent campaigns.

“He knew right away when I had the opportunity to take over that I was going to find some way to figure it out,” Justin said.

“That’s just how I’ve been with him, in high school and my life. My passion is in coaching basketball.

“Our relationship is really tight. We talk every day. We’re big supporters of one another man.

“To be supportive of his goals and his journey and now him seeing me have the opportunity to do something I love at a high level is just reciprocated the same way.

So can Tatum’s Celtics go all the way?

“I feel like every year with the chances they had, they could have been a championship team by now,” Tatum said.

“It’s an 82-game season and they’ve got to prepare for a long playoff run. I think they have all the key pieces. They’re very experienced. I’m rooting for them to win the whole thing.

“I think that’s something he’s driving himself to do. I think they can go all the way to the ‘chip. They just got to stay focused and healthy.”

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