To his former players, Brad Stevens is a somebody.
The newly instated Boston Celtics head coach made the jump from college ball at Butler to the NBA without so much as a warning. In an effort to drive an analytics movement, Danny Ainge and the Celtics thought outside the box.
It brought them to Stevens, who spent six seasons as head coach of Butler's men's basketball team. During that time, he compiled a record of 166-49, establishing himself as one of the most respected college coaches in the game.
Still, that reputation didn't prevent folks from asking "Who is this guy?" once he was hired. Nor did it stop writers (such as myself) from lodging inquiries into his capacity to handle the fickle Rajon Rondo.
"Who is Brad Stevens?" is still a question floating around the Association, Beantown specifically, like a balloon detached from its string.
This is the man who will be at the helm of the Celtics for the next six years, and he doesn't have a second of NBA head coaching experience to his name. Failure certainly seems like an option.
Those closest to him, or rather, those who have played for him in the past, won't hear of it. Not one former pupil has offered anything but a glowing review about their former coach.
Instilling faith in Hayward isn't all Stevens was good for, though. The 23-year-old made it clear that Stevens wasn't some college fluke, that he could handle coaching the Celtics:
He knows what he’s doing. He realizes everything that everybody is saying about it, the challenge that he’s going to face. It doesn’t matter. He’ll be successful wherever he’s at.
He does his research on guys and knows what he’s doing before the ball even goes up. Even if they make an adjustment, he’s already prepared in his mind what he’s going to do, what he thinks is going to work. He’s got a backup for that and a backup if the backup doesn’t work.
That’s why he’s so poised, in my opinion, because he had done his homework early. He knows basketball, as well. He’s been in it his whole life and he’s been a student of the game. He knows it inside and out.
To say he does his research may be an understatement.
While at Butler, Stevens hired Drew Cannon, a graduate student at the school who is considered the first "pure statistics-based hire" for a college basketball staff. Former Butler center Andrew Smith recalls the duo poring over hours worth of numbers after each and every game.
“I think they went over like a 10-hour report before and after every single game,” Smith said. “That alone proves it, and that’s just part of what he does."
A word stronger than dedication would be appropriate here.
Tides have been steadily shifting over the years, though. Analytics-based hires aren't as rare and more stock is being placed into the digits once considered tools that didn't tell enough of the story.
Stevens is at the forefront of that movement—a pioneer at the NCAA level who has a vision in Boston, a numbers-driven apparition that he (and the front office) believe will pave a path back toward contention.
Just as imperative as his individual understanding and interpretation of advanced statistics and the contemporary nuances of the game is his ability to make those around him comprehend what it is they mean.
In Smith's eyes, Stevens' “ability to [digest] all that and give it to us in a way that’s understandable, and just give us three or four key things that we can focus on each game, and not just be overwhelmed...is very impressive.”
Ensuring that your intended message resonates with the players is more than half the battle. If they don't understand what you're talking about, you're not going to be successful. Stevens can tailor his critiques to fit the mold of a player in question.
Adjusting to his surroundings, to his troops—that's one of his greatest strengths. And it's why Smith, like Hayward, is convinced Stevens is going to succeed:
He’ll be great. That’s one of his best things, dealing with different situations. It might take him a little bit of time to get adjusted, college is a lot different than the NBA, but with a talent like him, it’s only a matter of time before he’s able to figure it out. I think he’ll be pretty good in a few years.
Valuable lessons can be gleaned from players like Smith and Hayward. Bonds forged and success found at a previous stop, a former home are more than footnotes to a resume.
Players are drafted out of college based on their professional ceiling, which for most is set while in school. Plucking coaches out of college is no different. They're selected because of their potential, because of how well they performed at the previous level.
“I’ve talked to all the guys on the team,” Smith said. “They said that locker room meeting was pretty emotional, and they were on break, so some of the players weren’t even in town, were not able to hear about it until the media."
In sadness, we see collective triumph. Stevens was able to cultivate a relationship with his players, able to reach them. A hard worker like himself should be able to do the same in Boston, his new home.
“There’s a lot of studying to do, and I’m passing on any social activities to just go back to my room and watch and continue to learn," Stevens said of his new position with the Celtics, as quoted by Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald.
Studying, observing and learning are all strong suits of his. Stevens is never done learning, never done working.
Most importantly, he's never done teaching.
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