From the moment Butler reached the final four in 2010, Brad Stevens has been the most coveted and intriguing coach in college basketball. When he brought Butler back to the final the following year and steadfastly refused all suitors trying to lure him away to coach in a BCS conference, he ventured into the territory of transformational icon. A brilliant coach of humility and grace determined to elevate his mid-major program to the pinnacle of college basketball on the singular strength of his coaching acumen. His on the Butler bench seemingly ensured a well-prepared and fearlessly competitive effort from his team, and their were signs, like the pre and post game comments of Marquette’s Buzz Williams that Stevens almost invoked insecurity in his coaching peers.
For the moment, that is over. Brad Stevens is no longer a college basketball coach. He is coach of the Boston Celtics. The depleted and rebuilding Boston Celtics, who hold an astounding number of first round picks over the six year term of Stevens new contract. And the $22 million to be paid over those six years is more than even the biggest of college programs could have paid Stevens. In cynical truth and by history of Rick Pitino, John Calipari and Leonard Hamilton before him, Stevens is in a well paid, no lose situation. The Celtics he will coach have been gutted and expectations are exceptionally low. Even if he fails to raise an 18th banner in Boston, his return to the college game will be enhanced by his NBA experiences.
Rick Pitino is a bit of a stylist in his pressure-oriented system of basketball, and at the stage of his career, having not yet been humbled by eighteen seconds in the back room of an Italian restaurant, arguably too arrogant to enjoy long term NBA success.
I enjoy Coach Cal and feel at times he does not get his due as a basketball coach, but his greatest talent is undeniably recruiting. He was also cursed during his Nets tenure with Stephon Marbury, and smartly returned to college basketball using his experience and acute comprehension of the impact of the one and done ruled to gift Bill Self his only title and restore the glory of Kentucky Wildcat basketball.
Leonard Hamilton is, well, Leonard Hamilton, a coach best suited to imbue overlooked and under-appreciated players with a collective, defensive-minded sense of self-worth whilst simultaneously playing ugly, low-efficiency basketball on the other end of the floor.
Brad Stevens has no NBA experience whatsoever. He has barely coached NBA level talent (Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack), and will likely coach a player or two that are older than he is at 36. This represents a monumental professional challenge, but Stevens is about basketball….teaching, building character, film, analytics and improving. There is a contemporary purity that runs through his approach that has and will make him an outlier as coach of the Boston Celtics.