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Jayson Tatum's Journey to Stardom

The hardest thing is to do in sports is a heavily discussed topic. Hitting off an MLB pitcher, shooting under par, or playing quarterback are all viable answers. There really is no right answer, but let me introduce my answer: living up to expectations. On the surface, this doesn't seem to be the hardest thing in sports, right? Maybe not, until you think of every young athlete that was proclaimed "The next ______ " whoever it may be. Now think of how many times that athlete actually turned out to be as good as advertised. It's a rarity in sports, and something we take for granted.

From the young age of 14, Jayson Tatum was at the center of the basketball world, whichever level he was on. A member of Team USA basketball while only in middle school, Tatum was already being looked at by colleges. Tatum attended high school at Chaminade College Prep in St. Louis, Missouri, the same school that produced NBA stars Bradley Beal and David Lee. Before he even stepped foot on the court, Tatum was seen to be next in line. Tatum had a decorated high school career and was a top-three recruit in the 2016 class. Mcdonald's All-American, Jordan Brand All-American, and Gatorade National Player of the Year headlined Tatum's resume at the age of 17. Jayson was being recruited by every college program in the country, and he ultimately chose to play for Coach K at Duke University.

(Photo by Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

Tatum headlined a freshman class at Duke that also consisted of fellow 5-star recruits Harry Giles and Frank Jackson. Tatum was penciled in as a preseason All-American and was expected to headline a championship-contending Blue Devil squad. Tatum warranted the hype, as he finished his Freshman year averaging 16.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, and 2.1 APG. Duke would bow out of the NCAA tournament early, but Tatum would still forgo his final 3 years of school and enter the NBA Draft. He would enter the draft as a likely top-5 pick.

(Photo by Brad Penner, USA Today Sports)

The Boston Celtics held the first pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but would wind up trading that pick to the 76ers in exchange in a package that included their 3rd overall pick. Danny Ainge figured he could get some value out of the #1 overall choice, while still being able to get his target, Tatum. Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball went off the board first, and that left Ainge with his first choice. Tatum would go 3rd overall to the Celtics, and would join a Boston team that was coming off an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Tatum participated in the NBA's summer league, which is designed for teams to evaluate rookies and other potential bench players for their squad. After 6 games, Tatum was pulled from the team, which was Boston essentially saying "you're too good for this". Tatum would enter his rookie year as the starting power forward for the Celtics.

If a double-double in his first career game wasn't enough to turn some heads, 22 points in his fourth career game certainly was. Tatum was a key piece of the Celtics rotation all season long and looked to be the best rookie from this class. I'd say Tatum, and the Celtics were very content with the development of their young star. What happened next, nobody saw coming. Tatum went on a historic playoff run, terrorizing Eastern Conference opponents. Boston got all the way to Game 7 of the ECF, where Tatum would announce his presence to the world. With a trip to the NBA Finals on the line, Tatum scored 24 points on Lebron's Cavs, which included a monster dunk over LeBron James late in the 4th quarter. Not many players, let alone rookies can look LeBron James in the eyes in a Game 7 and rise to his level. While Boston wound up losing the game, Jayson Tatum had officially arrived.

Year two for Tatum was a bit underwhelming, as he didn't quite take that year two leap that has become so popular in today's game. While we now have a clearer picture of the Kyrie Irving effect on that 2018-19 team, Tatum just looked a bit confused and disjointed all season long. Averages of 15.7 PPG. 6.0 RPG, and 2.1 APG were still very solid numbers, but Tatum expected more. He entered third NBA season with a chip on his shoulder, and it showed. Tatum went on a tear right before the All-Star break that saw him score over 30 points in 6 of 7 games. He was rewarded with his first All-Star selection, and took his team to Game 6 of the ECF, where they would fall to the eventual champion Toronto Raptors. Tatum launched himself into the group of elite NBA wings, and was hungry for more.

((Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Year 4 resulted in another All-Star selection, and playoff berth for the Celtics. They were bounced in the first round by Brooklyn, and questions started to arise in Boston. Was Tatum capable of being the best player on a playoff team? Is he a good enough #1 option? Tatum did what he always does, kept his head down and proved them wrong. Year 5 was the biggest breakout for Jayson, as he led his team to the NBA Finals behind averages of 26.9 PPG, 8.0 RPG. and 4.4 APG. The critics fell silent as Tatum earned his inaugural First-Team All-NBA selection. He asserted himself as one of the best two-way players in the game and tore through the Eastern Conference. His playoff run saw him outduel Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Jimmy Butler. He proved to the league that he was a superstar, and was going to be a force for a long time.

At 24, Tatum is somehow just now entering his prime. His game has evolved so much over the past 5 years, and it will continue to. Every year he comes back with a new trick in his bag, whether it was the sidestep three, floater, or foul drawing ability. Tatum is one of the few players in the league that truly has best in the world potential, and he's just beginning to show it. The only question now, is what's next.

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