Jae’Sean Tate unplugged: On getting healthy, Rockets’ locker room vibes and more
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Jae’Sean Tate unplugged: On getting healthy, Rockets’ locker room vibes and more

Since earning first-team All-Rookie honors in 2021, Rockets forward Jae’Sean Tate has been chasing offensive consistency the last two seasons.

Defensively, Tate has always managed to make an impact, using his strong base, versatility and IQ to guard multiple positions on the floor. The Rockets have been one of the league’s worst defensive teams over the last three seasons, but Tate proved himself vital to former head coach Stephen Silas’ game plan. Houston played much better on that end of the floor when Tate was on it, a consistent theme since being drafted as shown in this graphic from Cleaning the Glass.

Last season, Tate struggled with injuries that limited him to just seven starts and 31 games played. But even amid a rough year, he’s still viewed as an important part of the organization. Multiple attempts from rival teams at acquiring his services over the years have been rebuffed, even more so now with the new coaching staff identifying him as a key piece of the puzzle. Tate has all the makings of a player Ime Udoka wants — defensive aggression and intensity, playmaking ability and, most importantly, unselfishness.

Tate’s ability to space the floor effectively still needs improving with a career 3-point shooting percentage of 30.7 — and Udoka is a huge proponent of shooting — but as the weeks towards training camp edge closer and Tate’s health improves, optimism remains strong in the forward, especially given the new-look roster with an infusion of veteran talent.

Last week, Tate sat down with The Athletic during his inaugural basketball camp in Houston to discuss his offseason, becoming the Rockets’ current longest-tenured player, new life under Udoka and much more. Parts have been edited for style, length and clarity.

It’s been quite an eventful offseason for you — hosting community events in Houston, participating in NBA programs in Spain, spending time back in Columbus, Ohio. How’s this summer treated you overall?

The location might change, but the goal and the work haven’t changed. Everywhere I go, I’ve just been trying to get healthy, and I’m in a great place now. It’s been a great offseason; shout-out to our training staff with the Rockets. (Team physical therapist) Scott Kneller, he’s been great with me in there all day, and I can finally say I’m back to a place where I feel comfortable again. I’ve been in the gym with Stephon (Martinez) and even (John) Lucas a little bit this offseason, and (I’ve) just been confident, man. Just been trying to perfect everything.

You’re now officially the longest-tenured Rocket on this roster. Having done several community events over the years, what’s the connection you have to Houston locals? Especially in a summer where you could argue that your primary focus should be getting healthy?

It means so much to me just because I remember growing up, coming to events like this where there were NBA or NFL guys that I looked up to. I think my story is motivation and proof that it can happen, no matter the circumstance. It’s nothing for me to come out here and take some time out of my day to be around the kids and the youth, because it’s possible. If I can just reach one, hopefully more than that, then I did my job, I did my due diligence. Being the longest-tenured Rocket, it’s my responsibility to be a part of this community.

There’s been an internal shift bringing in Ime Udoka and a coaching staff that is more aligned with the team’s collective age and experience. What’s that transition been like as you look toward the future?

It’s definitely been a change. We got a young coaching staff that is able to get out there with us. There have been times that Ime’s been out there in the drills with us, and I’m used to having older coaches. So, to just be around guys who can get out there and teach us and show us, that’s really good with the group we have. We got some great additions, some great vets who can actually help us along the way. Uncle Jeff (Green), Fred (VanVleet) and Dillon (Brooks) coming in, it’s going to be great for our young guys — and not only them, but for me, being in the position I am (in). I think I’ll be able to use them to learn even more.

When you look at the roster, there should be some defensive potential with names like VanVleet, Brooks, Tari Eason, Jabari Smith Jr. and yourself. What can that group be as a defensive unit?

We can be very problematic for teams. When you have guys with length, guys who can match the physicality of the opposing team, it’s hard for them to get an advantage. You have guys on the team who can guard multiple positions at once. It makes it hard for them to score. I’m looking forward to some of our lineups that we have out there, and I think Ime’s going to do a great job of making adjustments and throwing different lineups out there to cause havoc.

(Troy Taormina / USA Today)

Have there been any discussions about your early role, or is that more of a training camp thing?

I think right now, we’re just learning about each other. This is an almost completely different roster. From coaching staff to players, we just have a lot of additions here, and this summer is just about learning each other and our strengths and working on our weaknesses.

You had a pretty rough go with injuries last season. How are you feeling physically right now?

I’m in a great spot. I’m not going to say that I’m exactly where I want to be, but from the start of my rehab process, having to sit the last few games of the season until now, I feel 120 percent better. And I’m only going to get better every day.

The locker room is going to be a bit different with a few more older voices in there, but what have you seen from your own leadership being around such a young core of players and having your presence felt?

I’ve always been a guy who led by example. So, just being more vocal. I continue to still have to be more vocal on and off the court and just speak my mind more. I think I’ve done a great job of that and growing every year, and I’m hoping to take another leap this year, as well. So, just continuing to do the right things, trying to be the best player I can be every day. Try to be the best professional and not only lead by example, but try to just be somebody one of our young guys can come to if they have questions.

You mentioned working with your trainer Stephon. From an offensive standpoint, what areas of your game have you been trying to hone in on?

It’s always coming back to shooting, but also just being comfortable and being confident and taking the shots. For me, it’s not really the drill work; it’s just the game. Being confident in myself. That’s just one thing we’ve been trying to instill, being more confident in anything I do out there because my game has versatility.

Jae’Sean Tate and trainer Stephon Martinez working out. (Jack White / Yellow Sky Studios)

You’re a big proponent of film work, and you’ve been vocal about watching other players, as well. Who have you been paying attention to this offseason, and why is that independent research so important to you?

It’s not just necessarily one person I’ve been watching. These guys doing these podcasts, all these NBA players, I try to tune in and get perspective, you know? Whether it’s Draymond Green, Paul George or even Patrick Beverley’s podcast, just to get their perspective and when they have guest hosts of other NBA players about their lives and what they see in the NBA. Anybody at this level can learn from it. So, just being an open book, man. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be basketball, but just their everyday, what they do.

Would you ever host your own podcast?

I think it’s watered down right now, but I’ve definitely been filming my daily life. I got some stuff in the works (that will) probably be on YouTube of just me being me, just to let the people know what I go through and how much work I put in and that I’m a regular person at the end of the day.

Your story — being undrafted, making it to the NBA and having to fight for everything — is relatable not just for other athletes but for non-athletes, as well.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence, and there’s not a lot of guys who can say they got to the other side. I know how it is to get ready for a summer league (and) think it’s your biggest opportunity, then you get there and don’t play. I know how it is to go to vet camps and kill it and still don’t get that call. I know the opposing side of that, too, actually getting the opportunity, being ready for it, getting to that contract, getting to that second one. My story, different parts of it, I can share and reach out to different people, and one day, I hope I’ll be able to share it. But it’s far from done. I still got more to write.

You were at summer league for a little bit and got to see Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore. But you also spent time with Jabari Smith Jr. and Tari Eason. What did you see from Jabari and Tari as they go into their second season?

Last year we saw that they were talented. This year, you could tell they had the NBA-ready body. They were more polished, they were more poised. Jabari might have had, like, six points in the first half that first game, and (then) he came out and went crazy. Just seeing them grow and be comfortable after one year, it just shows that they’re on the right track, and they’re only going to get better.

What did you see from the rookies, Cam and Amen?

There’s nothing really to be said. They’re ready. They’re going to play hard. They play hard as hell, and that’s something that we’re trying to build. That’s our culture, Cam getting MVP and just their different skill sets. They both have something that is freakish and can be implemented to us and make us better.

Before you get out of here, any personal goals for the upcoming season?

Stay healthy and stay hungry.

(Top photo: Carmen Mandato / Getty Images)

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