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Jaylen Brown on anxiety, expectations, and why he 'didn't peak at 21'

Boston.com logo Boston.com 2/13/2020 Hayden Bird
Jaylen Brown, Glenn Robinson III are posing for a picture: Jaylen Brown drives to the basket in a game against the Warriors in January, 2020. © John Tlumacki/Globe Staff Jaylen Brown drives to the basket in a game against the Warriors in January, 2020.

In a recent interview with Bleacher Report’s “Take It There with Taylor Rooks,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown discussed a wide range of topics, including a career nadir in late 2018, his new approach this season, and the leadership of Kemba Walker.

Here’s a look at some of the things that Brown discussed with Rooks:

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Brown said he’s ‘only going to get better from here.’

Brown was asked about the less-than-enthusiastic response when the Celtics announced his four-year contract extension in October.

“I kind of anticipated it,” Brown said. “I kind of felt like that was what was going to be said. I think most people thought I peaked in my second year in the league, and I’m like, ‘I didn’t peak at 21. I’m only going to get better from here.’  Certain people think that I’m playing out of my mind now because they didn’t expect it.”

“That’s part of the reason why I cut my hair,” Brown continued. “People will put you in a box, with certain stipulations or try to identify you a certain way. I wanted people to kind of see me differently this year.”

One reason why Brown said he had difficulties during the 2018-2019 season was anxiety.

“It was tough,” Brown admitted of last season. “I suffer from a lot of anxiety. When you have so much expectations, especially in a city like Boston, which is like they want to win. If you’re not performing, you start to lose your confidence. You start to doubt yourself.”

In 2018, he was ‘at the brink’ during a game against the Jazz.

Asked about a particular game against the Jazz in Nov. 2018, Brown offered more details on a story that he recently shared about what was possibly his lowest point as an NBA player. Fighting for minutes on a talented team took its toll on Brown that season. Amid a glaringly poor shooting performance, Brown says he was asked by friend (and competitor) Donovan Mitchell if he was alright.

“That was one of the games that kind of stood out, because I was at the brink,” Brown said.

“I felt like things were out of my control,” Brown admitted. “I felt like I have this amount of talent, I was asked to take a back seat. It was very hard for me to deal with. In the middle of the game, Donovan comes up to me like, ‘Bro, you good?’ You know, most people if I were to ask you if you were ‘good,’ you would tell me you were good even though you might not be. So I told him I was good even though I really wasn’t. People ask me — like Danny Ainge — asked me if I was OK. I told him I was good, but in reality I had a lot of anxiety, dealing with that whole scenario last year. It was a lot for me, took a lot to get out of that.”

The difference between last year and this year.

While Brown struggled a year ago to find a role that he could embrace, there have so far been no such issues this season. He’s improved in virtually every statistical category, and was in the conversation for All-Star inclusion.

“This year, I’m one of the starters, one of the leaders, so I have a lot more responsibility, a lot more weight to carry” Brown said. “People have expectations of me, what I’m doing now, but [last year] I didn’t have that responsibility. It’s a blessing. I don’t look at it as a negative thing, I look at it as a great thing. I learned so much more about myself, so I’m not knocking the Celtics. It was actually needed for me to go to where I’m trying to go.

What he thinks about Kemba Walker’s leadership.

Following the departure of Kyrie Irving as a free agent in 2019, Boston signed guard Kemba Walker. Walker’s leadership has been praised since joining the Celtics.

“Kemba is like somebody you knew growing up all your life,” Brown explained. “[He’s] just like the homey, the older brother that’s been through it all, seen it all, and just happy to be here.”

Brown started to notice Walker’s leadership in action during the U.S. team’s disappointing performance at the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

“When I saw Kemba’s leadership for the first time was at USA. Obviously the goal that we had didn’t pan out the way we expected it to. We all wanted to win. We didn’t want to come home unless we won, and we lost. Kemba, the way he handled that and lifted everybody up and told us this is not the end and everybody’s going to get better from this was great for us.”

Brad Stevens mixes up his name with Jayson Tatum’s.

Given the similarities in position and draft origin with teammate Jayson Tatum, Brown admitted that Celtics coach Brad Stevens accidentally swaps their names.

“Brad does it a lot,” Brown joked. “Brad will be drawing up the play, and will say Jaylen, but put ‘JT’ on the clipboard, so me and JT look at each other like, ‘Alright bro, one of us going to get the bucket.’ It don’t even matter.”

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