Another college basketball golden boy—similar to a younger Rick Pitino—off to the NBA, a league that has sent the best and brightest college minds back to where they came from.
Stevens is different, the Celtics would like to think. And they have a good argument.
College basketball had never seen a Stevens before. He was 31 when he took over as head coach and had Butler—Butler!—in the national championship game by his third season.
But it was the way he went about it that got everyone’s attention—using advanced numbers to navigate his way through the bracket.
Stevens has had some talented players, but the perception—and it's a fair one—is that he wins with his mind. Every move he makes on a basketball court is calculated. He doesn’t draw up a play without knowing the chances of the outcome.
A year ago, Stevens hired a Duke statistics major named Drew Cannon to be a graduate assistant. Cannon, who had no previous coaching experience, was brought on to be an advanced statistics guru for the Bulldogs. He’s the only one of his kind in college basketball.
They have all kinds of Cannons in the NBA. That’s what the league believes in right now. That’s what had to make the Boston job attractive to Stevens.
Recruiting is not why Stevens loves basketball. He loves manipulating the game. He loves solving problems. He had Cannon producing lineup evaluations and inventing statistics.
“Coach Stevens is less of a stats guy than a 'I want every piece of information' guy,” Cannon told me this past season. “If you can tell me something that I didn’t already know, I like to know about it. If stats is the way to do it, great. If scouting is the way to do it, great. If talking to some guy at lunch is the way to do it, great.”
The thought was that Stevens was waiting for the perfect college job to open up, but all along, maybe it was the perfect pro job that he desired.
Why he picked the Celtics is puzzling, considering the franchise is in rebuilding mode. Why not go to a winner? He's appears destined to be another college coach set up to fail.
But maybe the opportunity to solve that problem enticed Stevens. He’s also going to a franchise that is loyal in a league that is so fickle its Coach of the Year was just fired. Doc Rivers spent nine years in Boston, and he left by choice.
The college-to-the-pros coaches have not had that luxury in the last 20 years. Most have come back to college after the league didn’t want them anymore.
|College||NBA Team||Record||Playoff Appearances||Playoff Record|
|P.J. Carlesimo (1994-97)||Seton Hall||Trail Blazers||137-109||3||3-9|
|John Calipari (1996-99)||UMass||Nets||72-112||1||0-3|
|Rick Pitino (1997-2001)||Kentucky||Celtics||102-146||0||N/A|
|Tim Floyd (1998-2002)||Iowa St.||Bulls||49-190||0||N/A|
|Leonard Hamilton (2000-01)||Miami||Wizards||19-63||0||N/A|
|Lon Kruger (2000-03)||Illinois||Hawks||69-122||0||N/A|
|Mike Montgomery (2004-06) ||Stanford||Warriors||68-96||0||N/A|
You could argue the situations were not ideal for any of those coaches, or you could say they just were not fit for the professional ranks.
A guy like Calipari succeeds with recruiting and getting elite college athletes to buy into defense. Pitino wins with a system fit for the college game, although it’s worth noting that he was fairly successful in his first run in the pros. He went 90-74 and made the playoffs twice in two seasons with the Knicks from 1987 to 1989.
That’s when the perfect job for Pitino opened up in the college ranks. He left to take over Kentucky, which at the time looked like a ridiculous challenge to take on because the program was on probation.
Boston could be to Stevens what Kentucky was to Pitino. Ignore the current parts. Look at the tradition.
If it doesn’t work out, a great job will be waiting for Stevens if and when he decides to return to the college game.
He was one of a kind at that level. And he’ll always be welcomed back.