Boston Celtics Star Jayson Tatum was Fueled by an Embarrassing Moment in Elementary School and a Lesson From His Mom

Growing up in St. Louis, Jayson Tatum has battled adversity his entire life. The Boston Celtics star had an embarrassing experience in the fourth grade that shaped him and served as motivation for the rest of his life. Tatum is one of the most talented basketball players in the world, and the harsh lesson helped him reach new heights.

Jayson Tatum’s fourth grade teacher doubted him

Tatum joined the Million Dollaz Worth of Game podcast to discuss basketball and life off of the court. On the show, he told a story that changed his life forever.

In fourth grade, he attended a private school. He was one of the few minorities in his class and often felt the pressures of being different from most of his classmates. “We lived two totally different lives,” said Tatum.

Tatum’s teacher gave the class an assignment, asking each student to write a paragraph about what they wanted to be when they grow up. He wrote about becoming a professional basketball player and being on television. The teacher scoffed at his response, saying, “You have to pick something more realistic.”

After the teacher’s remark, the classroom erupted in laughter. “I was embarrassed,” said Tatum. In tears, he told his mother, Brandy Cole, what happened. His mom gave him an important reminder. Cole said as long as she supports and believes in Tatum, “it doesn’t matter what somebody else thinks.”

That lesson has stuck with Tatum on his fatherhood journey. “As a parent, you should always support your kids,” the two-time All-Star said.

Jayson Tatum was a five-star prospect coming out of high school

Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum warms up during the Olympics
Boston Celtics swingman was a member of US Men’s Olympic team in Tokyo | Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Tatum started proving his fourth-grade teacher wrong early. He went on to dominate the AAU circuit and prep ranks. He attended Chaminade College Preparatory High School in St. Louis.

He was the No. 8 overall high school basketball prospect in the class of 2016, according to 247Sports. The loaded recruiting class also featured Lonzo Ball, DeAaron Fox, Harry Giles, and Bam Adebayo. Tatum was highly-touted and participated in the McDonald’s All-American Game.

He garnered several offers from big-time collegiate programs, such as Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State, and North Carolina. Tatum ultimately committed to play for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. He spent one season at Duke, averaging 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. He was an ACC All-Freshman selection and an All-ACC Tournament selection.

After navigating AAU, high school, and the one-and-done process at Duke, the next stop was the NBA.

Tatum is on the path to becoming an NBA superstar


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The Boston Celtics drafted Tatum with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Through four seasons, he has proven to be the best player from that draft class.

For his career, he’s averaging 19.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. As a rookie, he was named first team All-Rookie. Each season, Tatum has added to his game and grown as a basketball player.

The 23-year-old enjoyed the best statistical season of his young career in 2020, averaging 26.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 4.3 assists.

The Celtics have a storied history, and Tatum is beginning to etch his name in the books. He and Jaylen Brown form one of the league’s brightest young tandems.

Making the NBA may be unrealistic for most people, but Jayson Tatum proves that there’s nothing wrong with having an “unrealistic” dream. He remembers the lesson his mom gave him and uses it to fuel him in the face of adversity.

All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference