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Mike Muscala Previews How Assistant Coach Charles Lee Helps the Celtics

Mike Muscala finds himself on a new team for the second time in less than one year in Washington, D.C., growing familiar with a completely revamped roster, awaiting his role and appreciative. The former Celtics big man who arrived at last year’s trading deadline didn’t play often and rarely played at all in the postseason, but saw his deepest playoff run of his NBA career fall just short of the first 0-3 comeback in league history against Miami.

Boston traded Muscala alongside Danilo Gallinari to the Wizards as part of the Kristaps Porziņģis deal, which activated Muscala’s $3.5-million ahead of free agency next year at 33. Muscala entered Bucknell’s Hall of Fame as the program’s all-time leading scorer this month and narrowly missed reuniting with his old college assistant coach Charles Lee for a third time in Boston.

The Celtics hired Lee as Joe Mazzulla’s top assistant after the Bucks fired Lee’s long-time head coach Mike Budenholzer, who brought Lee to Atlanta as a player development after two years coaching at Bucknell. Muscala joined the Hawks that same year (14-15) as a rookie and went to work with Lee as his player development coach, helping the big man become a solid floor-spacer and defender at the five.

Muscala talked to CLNS Media about what Lee could bring to the Celtics…

CLNS: What’d you remember about working with Charles Lee? 

Muscala: “I always loved his energy and obviously I knew he was a great player for Bucknell, he was on the team that beat Kansas and put Bucknell on the map. It was cool getting to play for him my senior year and then also the fact that he joined the Atlanta staff with Mike Budenholzer when I was there, we got a chance to work together or even longer a few years together there in Atlanta. That was a blessing to be able to reconnect with that.”

CLNS: What do you remember about that team at Bucknell your senior season, going into it, the expectations you had and what kind of team that was that made the tournament that year? 

Muscala: “For me and the other seniors on the team, Bryson Johnson, Joe Willman, Colin Klebon, we had a good first three years there and it felt like the senior year was everything for us, and then obviously C.J. McCollum played for Lehigh, we kind of developed a robbery and then he got hurt our senior year. So we felt like we were for sure the favorites and we won (the Patriot League) and couldn’t get it done in the tournament, but it was a really fun year, you know, I felt like we played really good basketball and we were just clicking.”

CLNS: What made that team so successful, was it the defense? Was it the offense? What was your calling card on that team?

Muscala: “It was both, I feel like the coaches there, they did a great job just making us better as players. We had good practice habits. We were accountable defensively and we just had a bunch of competitive guys on the team. We were all pretty close having played together for a few years at that point. So, yeah, I think it was all those things.”

CLNS: “What was Charles role in that team? Did you work with him directly at all? What was kind of his job coming in?

Muscala: “He was new to coaching at that point, but I could just tell early on that he had a great energy for it and obviously we all respected him and valued what he said, his opinions, just because he had been there before. He had been a part of good teams and been the leader of those teams. So for him having that experience along with just kind of his upbeat, personable attitude, I think we could tell that he was gonna be a great coach.”

CLNS: I talked to his coach, Pat (Flannery) from Bucknell there and that was what he said. He’d always light up the room, big personality, what were some ways you kind of saw that the upbeat energy you just talked about? 

Muscala: “I think he’s consistent with it and just brings a good volume to the room and he’s assertive and confident and he just kind of brings the energy that is important throughout the course of the season, when it’s a long season and a lot of it comes down to who has more of that positivity, more of that juice.”

CLNS: When you look back on that year, I know you became the all-time leading scorer, getting in the March, what was your best memory of that team and what you guys accomplished that year?

Muscala: “I would just say winning the, the Patriot League tournament again. Everyone’s storming the court and all of us hugging each other after and just being able to play that championship tournament game at home, it’s one of the few conferences where they still do that, I think. That was special to be able to close it out, especially after how we had ended our season the year before, losing at home to Lehigh in the championship and them cutting down the nets on our home court. That was always kind of bitter for us to the offseason.”

CLNS: You mentioned Charles joined you guys in Atlanta a couple of years later. How would he come along as a coach in those couple of years since you had been with him? What kind of contributions did he give to that team that year? Were you able to work with him then?

Muscala: “He was a great, great coach in Atlanta. Just a great player development coach, like I said, I got a chance to work with him a lot. He was my coach, my assistant and then we always had really good, low-minute games where guys who weren’t playing a lot, we’d play five on five. So he would join us along with Ben Sullivan and he was still playing at a high level at that point. I think his consistency, as a player, for me personally, working with him, I felt like I was playing some of my best basketball, walking me through different finishes and different footwork and stuff like that. Stuff that I felt like was just paying dividends throughout the years I was there working with (Lee).”

CLNS: “What were the little things you worked on, the finishing, you talked about, what was he able to help you through that year?

Muscala: “Finishes off the roll, some one-dribble finishes, catching the ball in that short roll. Finishes on the basket like that, some good ball-handling stuff that he was able to show and then for me as a four or five, I’ve been able to utilize some of that stuff.”

CLNS: Obviously he’s joining Boston. You were in Boston for half a year. What are some things you think he’ll be able to bring to that team? Is it the development stuff? Is it his voice? What do you think is gonna be his biggest contribution there on that staff?

Muscala: “All of that and obviously he won a ring with the Bucks, recently, so having gone through that. seeing what that takes, being a part of that. Obviously Celtics have those in championship aspirations. I think it will be all those things.”

CLNS: Do you think that’s something they needed a voice like that, a guy who brings what Charles does to the table, they’re able to bring in him, Sam (Cassell), a couple of guys to that staff, based on what you saw there last year? 

Muscala: “Yeah. I never worked with Sam but grew up watching him, grew up in Minnesota. I think that they’ll be great voices and great leaders.”

CLNS: How do you kind of look back on your time in Boston? It wasn’t very long, but you guys made a playoff push there, almost pulled off that first 0-3 comeback? How do you look back on the short time you had there for you?

Muscala: “I had a great time. It was one of my favorite experiences playing basketball. It was a great city, I speak so highly of the city and of the team when people ask what it was like. The fans were amazing, they love their basketball and they were very supportive. I just really enjoyed getting to know the city, getting to learn about the history of the area, having some friends and family come out and visit and playing at the Garden man, i t was awesome. A lot of really fun memories.”

CLNS: You and Danilo, getting comfortable there at DC so far, what’re your goals for this year and how are you going into it with camp coming up now? 

Muscala: “I’m just trying to stay in it. I feel like it was a blessing to play deep in the playoffs, and be a part of the Celtics for that. I played in a pro-am this summer, and keep playing, keep in shape, keep learning from the game, keep enjoying it, staying grateful for the time I still have playing this game. That’s the mindset I have going forward, staying in the flow of it, just appreciating every day I have that can still play.”

Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

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