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ZIONSVILLE, Ind. — Brad Stevens was living the life. He ran around his Zionsville neighborhood with a large group of friends, so large he never felt much like an only child. He filled long summer days with basketball pickup games and driveway shooting drills inspired by former Indiana University star Steve Alford.
Stevens wanted nothing more than a basketball in his hands and competition. His friends shared his passion. After the dinner dishes were cleared, the driveway floodlights came on so everyone could shoot baskets after dark.
“You’ve heard about Indiana basketball and baskets hanging off barn doors,” says Brian Flickinger, a childhood friend of Stevens. “We didn’t have barn doors, but it was very similar to that.”
That world was simply “the greatest,” says Stevens. It was also, say those who know him best, a perfect reflection of the values and skills he brings to Boston as the Celtics’ new coach.
Midwestern Values Carry Celtics Coach Brad Stevens-Shira Springer
Brad Stevens absolutely loves the game of basketball. As a kid growing up in the small town of Zionsville, Indiana, it was his life. He now brings his small town persona to Boston, where next season he will coach the most storied franchise in NBA history. Stevens admits he is “boring”, but his humble attitude and small town background may be perfect at helping him bond with his players and colleagues.
“I’m boring,” he repeats apologetically when conversations turn more toward his life than his players. It’s his Midwestern-bred humility talking. It’s also a quality that everyone praises, from his best friends to his high school coach to his former Butler boss to his former players to his new boss, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
Humility may serve Stevens well as he guides the young Celtics through the rebuilding years ahead.
“He’s so good at building relationships, being genuine, wanting to get to know you, wanting what’s best for you that you really have no choice but to trust him and play as hard as you possibly can for him,” says Ronald Nored, a former Butler star and current South Alabama assistant coach.
Stevens is known as a detail-orientated guy who wants to use each and every minute he has with his players to his advantage. Quality over quantity perhaps. I truly believe that Boston’s current, younger squad will like Stevens’ approach and respond well to it.
Stevens is a meticulous planner. “I thought we were the more prepared team 99 percent of the time,” says Nored. Practices at Butler followed precise, efficient agendas, timed to the minute. The sessions were fast-paced and full of information, physically and mentally challenging. Expect more of the same with the Celtics.
“I’m not going to keep them out there for four hours at a time,” says Stevens. “I like to be pretty streamlined, to maximize our time on the practice floor. I like to make sure I’m respectful of our players’ time.”
That kind of respect should help win over NBA players. And it’s a glimpse at how Stevens conducts his life, not just workouts.
When asked to describe Stevens, people here offer endless testimonials — about his character, integrity, values — and critics, if there are any, keep to themselves.
Boston is a tough town for athletes and coaches. The media here can be tough, and Celtics fans are
some of the most demanding in the league. We have high expectations each season, and expect nothing but the very best from our Celtics. Will Stevens’ and his at times ”aw shucks” attitude fit in with this tough city and it’s even tougher fanbase? Only time will tell, but from what I see thus far, I think he’s going to do great here.
A skeptic might find it all a bit too tinged with Midwestern wholesomeness to be believed. But this is the man who, in the 24 hours between his introductory Celtics press conference and the start of his Orlando Summer League duties, dashed back to Indiana to ride in rural Connersville’s bicentennial parade. Why? Because he promised a former Butler player’s father that he would.
But it remains to be seen how such earnestness will play in the Celtics locker room. Zionsville, Connersville, and college basketball are a long way from Boston and the NBA. During his introductory press conference, after Stevens talked about fostering team unity and “getting the right players on the bus,” Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck cracked, “It’s not a bus in the NBA. It’s a jet.”
Stevens knows he’s entering a different world. Despite his small town upbringing, boyish looks, and fondness for words such as “awesome,” “super-duper” and “neat,” he doesn’t betray a trace of naivete in conversation.
True to his analytical, hyper-prepared reputation, Stevens did his research before taking the Celtics job. He knows what to expect. Still, there is no guarantee that his college coaching success will translate to the NBA grind, and even less guarantee that headstrong professionals like Rajon Rondo will respond to his coaching style once the hiring honeymoon ends.
After all, Boston fans need no reminder of the Celtics’ failed experiment bringing in Rick Pitino from the University of Kentucky.
Stevens, now the NBA’s youngest head coach at 36, recognizes he may need all of his six-year, $22 million contract to weather the rebuilding process and truly prove himself in the league.
“If you told me 13 years ago, when I left Lilly, that I was going to be the head coach of the Boston Celtics, I would’ve thought that was a bit of a crazy statement,” says Stevens. “But one of the awesome things about Butler was I saw a group of kids and coaches who would not set a ceiling for themselves, despite the fact that everyone was going to put a ceiling on them.
“That was inspiring and neat to be a part of. I learned you don’t put limitations on yourself.”
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