Jarell Christian spent one season as head coach of the G League’s Capital City Go-Go before serving as an assistant with the NBA’s Washington Wizards the past two years. NBAE via Getty Images

The new head coach of the Maine Celtics already has tasted basketball success at the Portland Expo.

Jarell Christian was head coach of the Capital City Go-Go – then the nascent G League affiliate of the NBA’s Washington Wizards – during a tight game at the Expo in early January 2019. Christian successfully challenged a three-point play in overtime by Maine’s P.J. Dozier, which resulted in Dozier fouling out. Capital City was able to maintain its lead in what would become a 105-104 victory.

“It was a bang-bang play that could have gone either way,” Christian said of the block-to-charge reversal, “but the one thing I always remember about the Expo is the crowd engagement. Obviously, New Englanders love their sports teams, and it’s no different there in the Expo.”

Christian, 35, was announced Thursday as the new head coach of the Maine Celtics. He takes over from Darren Erman, now entering his second season as an NBA assistant with the New York Knicks.

Christian earned a promotion after one season in the G

League assistant with the Oklahoma City Blue. He grew up in a town of 18,000 (New Kent, Virginia) and played Division III basketball at Emory & Henry College in western Virginia before becoming an assistant at his alma mater and two other schools, Tusculum and Randolph-Henry.

He has an older brother, Jamion, who is the head men’s basketball coach at George Washington University after leading both Mount St. Mary’s and Siena to NCAA tournament berths.

Their father, John Christian, was a two-time national champion sprinter at Virginia State University who went on to teach and coach for more than four decades at Charles City County High School. His team won a state championship in 1995 despite not having a track on campus.

Their mother recently retired after a career in special education.

“So I come from a family of educators and teachers,” Christian said during an introductory videoconference call. “That’s really the foundation of how I coach.”

Professional basketball has been absent from the Expo since March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic forced cancellation of a season in which the Maine Red Claws seemed assured of returning to the playoffs and in which they drew capacity crowds excited to see 7-foot-5 center Tacko Fall, among others.

The team subsequently changed its name to the Maine Celtics to better align with its NBA parent club in Boston, which opted against fielding a G League team last winter.

Speaking from his home in Bristol, Virginia, Christian said he is eager to bring his family (he is married with two young boys, and a baby on the way) to Maine and join the Celtics’ organization.

He expressed gratitude to Boston president of basketball operations Brad Stevens and Boston’s new head coach, Ime Udoka.

Remy Cofield, general manager of the Maine Celtics, lauded Christian’s demeanor, professionalism and ability to connect with players.

“We’re excited to have Jarell,” Cofield said. “He brings enthusiasm and the experience of developing younger guys.”

Cofield and Christian are sifting through candidates to join the staff in Portland, with Alex Barlow due to return as associate head coach. Barlow played for Stevens at Butler University and subsequently joined the Celtics’ organization, serving as a G League assistant to Erman and former Red Claws coach Brandon Bailey.

“We’ll be working over the next couple weeks to see what the rest of the staff looks like,” Cofield said. “We have some interesting candidates but we’re all still working through it now.”

Cofield also has the responsibility of filling out a roster that will include neither Fall (who signed with Cleveland) nor his old roommate, guard Tremont Waters, who also spent two seasons as a Celtics two-way player with Maine. Milwaukee invited Waters to the Bucks’ training camp.

So what should Maine fans expect?

“We’re going to try to mimic in Portland what they’re doing in Boston with Ime and his staff,” Christian said. “We want to have better ball movement. We’re going to have a Point Five mentality”– referring to the notion that a player must decide within half a second to pass, shoot or drive. “So we’re going to play up-tempo, but we’re not going to do it recklessly.”

As for defense, Christian preaches hard-nosed, aggressive play with intent and purpose.

The Maine Celtics open their home schedule at the Expo on Nov. 12.


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