By Will Willems Sports Editor
Zionsville Times Sentinel
---- — As I was scrolling through my Twitter feed Wednesday, July 3, afternoon, I had do a double-check when I saw a Tweet from the Butler Men’s Basketball feed.
Certainly the message I had just read, “Breaking News: Brad Stevens To Take Boston Celtics Coaching Position” had to be a typo. But as I refreshed my feed and saw the numerous Tweets, then ESPN reports, come piling in it seemed the reports were true — Zionsville native Brad Stevens was no longer the coach of my favorite college basketball team.
My initial feeling was to be hurt. How, could the coach that led my Alma Mater to unprecedented heights for a “Mid-Major” school leave us high and dry right when the school was making the transition to the powerhouse Big East Conference? Stevens had, just two days before, been all over Indianapolis promoting the move to the bigger, university changing move.
But after about 15 minutes of texting back-and-forth with some of my college friends, two more thoughts came into my mind: First, Butler has gone through big coaching changes before and while Stevens was possibly the best coach I have ever seen, will survive. Second, the opportunity couldn’t have happened to a better person.
Coaching in the NBA has to be, at some level, every basketball coach’s dream. Although, Stevens told ESPN Friday that he had “never had long-term goals” about where he would end up coaching someday, it is the goal for most every person to achieve the highest level of their chosen profession. And it being the Boston Celtics, arguably the most prestigious organization in basketball (and if not THE best, one of a select few), the decision is pretty much a no-brainer in my book.
It will be a challenge for sure. The Celtics have traded away two of their top players in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and another — point guard Rajon Rondo — is coming off an ACL injury.
But if anyone can handle a rebuilding project it is Stevens, who brought the mid-major Bulldogs to the verge of the national title in 2010 and 2011.
Also, college coaches have historically not done well in the transition to the pro game. But Stevens is much different from Rick Pitino, John Calipari and many of the others who have tried the jump to the NBA.
The thing that separates Stevens from those other coaches is that he stays true to his roots and is virtually unchanged from the success he has achieved in coaching.
I will not say that Stevens and I have a close working relationship. Since graduating from Butler in 2008, I have covered numerous Butler games, but I am not at practice every day or even at every game like some of the beat writers for the Bulldogs.
But a couple of stories have made it easy for me to grasp the kind of person Stevens is.
Stevens took over at Butler during my senior year at the university. The move also coincided with me moving to the men’s basketball beat for the school paper.
With a light class schedule my senior year and the Bulldogs having — at the time — arguably the greatest season in school history, I traveled around the country with the team, covering 29 of the team’s 34 contests.
One of those games was an early February contest up in Green Bay. My original plan was to drive up Green Bay for the Saturday night game, then stay up in Wisconsin for the Bulldogs Tuesday night game in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, on the drive back down from Green Bay, the winds off Lake Michigan picked up and with heavy snow blowing, I spun out my car into the median and sustained a decent amount of damage to the front of my car.
Plans then changed, and rather than staying in Milwaukee, I worked my way to a repair shop and got myself back to Butler. Then after the Bulldogs next home game, as I was leaving the press conference, I walked past Stevens. He stopped me, then added “Glad to see you are all right. Be careful now.” I was completely in shock. For one, I had no idea how he ever figured out about the accident. Second, the fact that he took the time to say that to a student reporter, to me speaks volumes about the kind of person Brad Stevens is.
After I moved on to work at the Times Sentinel and Lebanon Reporter, I have done a local story on Brad Stevens virtually every year. Every time, he has been more than gracious with his time and making sure that I have everything I need for my story. That is not something that all Division I coaches will do for a smaller newspaper, even from their hometown.
But Brad is different, and that is why I have no doubts he will succeed and that the glamour of being an NBA coach will not change him. He will still be the kid who played in Zionsville’s old Varsity Gym, setting school records in career points (1,508), assists (444) and steals (156).
So while it will be tough to see him lose the Butler blue for Celtic green, I can’t be more happy for a coach that I completely respect. Best of luck Brad, you have created one more Celtic fan.