A key part of a Florida Gators squad that won back-to-back NCAA championships in 2006 and 2007, Al Horford was selected at No. 3 overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the ’07 NBA Draft, ahead of his college teammates Corey Brewer (No. 7), Joakim Noah (No. 9), Chris Richard (No. 41) and Taurean Green (No. 52). That draft marked the first time that three players selected in the top 10 came from the same school, and Florida tied the record set by the University of Connecticut in 2006 with five players nabbed in the first two rounds of the draft. Of those five players, only Horford is still playing in the NBA — and he’s playing well.
An off-and-on starter for the Celtics, the versatile big man, who has teamed with SimpliSafe to promote the virtues of having a home security system, is an important piece in the rotation for a Boston squad that has the best record in The Association and is currently the odds-on favorite to win the NBA title. The last time the Green hung a championship banner, it was after Horford’s rookie season while he was still with the Hawks. Now a Celtic for the second time, after playing for Boston for three seasons prior to departing for Philly and then OKC before coming back to Boston prior to the 2021-22 season, Horford is hoping this season will end the same way his rookie year did for the C’s.
“When you play for the Boston Celtics, the reality is that a championship is the expectation. When I first signed on here eight years ago, that was the expectation then and it’s still true now,” Horford tells InsideHook. “It’s one of the places where that’s really the case. We don’t talk about it, but we know that’s what it is. For us, it’s really about locking in on the day-to-day. I feel like we’ve been doing a good job with that mindset.”
A member of the sandwich generation who relies on a home security system to monitor his wife, five kids and parents when the Celtics are on the road, the 37-year-old is the oldest player on Boston’s roster and is even older than second-year head coach Joe Mazzulla (35). In fact, other than 33-year-old Jrue Holiday, the Celtics don’t have another player on the roster over the age of 30, which thrusts Horford into somewhat of a parental role within the team.
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“I feel like I’ve always been very mature and tried to lead the way even when I was a younger player. Now it’s kind of the same thing,” Horford says. “Our guys actually remind me of myself a little bit. They’re young, but they’re very mature and have things figured out. They have it put together. So for me, it’s really about being there to support them and be one of the leaders of the team. When I feel I need to step in and say things, I will. But for the most part, our group is pretty easygoing.”
Though an argument could probably be made for first-year Celtic Kristaps Porzingis (“To be 7’3″ and do the things he does, he’s almost like a cheat code,” Horford says) or rapidly improving point guard Derrick White being the most important pieces of Boston’s group, most would probably list 2016 No. 3 overall draft pick Jaylen Brown and 2017 No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum as the keys to unlocking success for Boston.
“Even when they were rookies, you could see they weren’t normal rookies. Jaylen’s very thoughtful and Jason’s very understanding of everything and has a good sense of perspective,” Horford says. “From the very beginning, that was helpful. But as they try to understand the league and how everything works, it’s nice because I feel like we’ve always seen eye to eye even though they’re younger than me. I’ve always respected them for who they are and we’re just learning from each other. They’re still developing as men and it’s been good to see that process.”
Horford is also enjoying observing the process of Mazzulla evolving into a team leader despite being the youngest coach in the NBA. “It’s been good,” he says. “What I appreciate about Joe is he is very sure of himself and instills an awful lot of confidence. He’s trying to learn and I’m trying to learn from him. Even though he’s a little younger and I have more experience per se, I’m always trying to learn from him because he sees the game so differently. It’s been really fun to be able to see how he thinks and how he operates. Even though I’ve been in the league for a long time, I don’t have everything figured out and the game continues to change constantly. I can only imagine where the game is going to be three or four years from now.”
If all goes to plan, it won’t be three or four years until banner 18 is hanging in the rafters of TD Garden in Boston.
“When I first got here, it was totally different even though the expectations were high. We had a younger group and were trying to consistently be a playoff team,” Horford says. “This time, I feel like this is as good as a team as I’ve been a part of. With the depth of our group, the kind of guys we have and, most importantly, Jason and Jaylen starting to be at the top of their games, I believe this year’s team really separates from all the others.”
“We can’t take anything for granted and we know how difficult it is, but our biggest thing is just continuing to get better as a group and as a team,” he adds. “We understand we have a great opportunity in front of us.”