The Boston Celtics reached the pinnacle of the NBA in 2008 when they won their 17th championship, good for most in the NBA. As the big three consisting of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen aged, the Celtics began to deal away pieces and began a rebuilding process. When Doc Rivers left for Los Angeles, Danny Ainge brought in one of the best young minds in college basketball, Brad Stevens, to head the rebuilding project and lead the storied franchise back to success. The rebuilding process has been initiated and is going at a faster speed than expected, and Stevens is a big reason why.
Brad Stevens grew up in Indiana, about 118 miles north of where Larry Bird grew up. Stevens starred at Zionsville Community High School before going on to play at DePauw University. Stevens realized his basketball potential was limited and chose to get an Economics degree. He began his post-basketball professional career at Eli Lilly.
Stevens quit his job to chase his coaching passion and began waiting tables at Applebee’s to help him get by. His longtime girlfriend, now wife, went back to get her law degree to help out if needed. Stevens planned to take a volunteer role before then-head coach and current Ohio State head coach, Thad Matta, offered him the director of basketball operations position that opened up. After Matta left, Stevens was promoted to a full-time assistant coach. His passion and coaching style continued to develop as an assistant, and his first head coaching opportunity came in 2007 after he was hired at Butler to take over the head coaching duties. Stevens became the second youngest coach in division 1 college basketball, but that didn’t matter.
The Stevens led Bulldogs won the Horizon League Championship in his first season after going 27-3 in the regular season, amassing a 16-2 record in the conference. The mid-major Butler program continued to rise in 2008-2009 and made history in the 2009-2010 season by running through the NCAA tournament, all the way to the National Championship game that was played in Indianapolis, the city the Bulldogs called home.
Stevens’ cool, calm, and collected coaching style was gathering national attention. The Bulldogs fell short to Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke, but reloaded behind Stevens and his success at the helm for the next season, even after their star, Gordon Hayward, declared for the NBA draft. The Bulldogs ran through the 2011 NCAA tournament as well, before Stevens and the Bulldogs fell short to another coaching legend in Jim Calhoun and the Connecticut Huskies.
Stevens recruited and developed NBA players Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack during those seasons that saw unprecedented success. Those two players weren’t the only ones being primed for an NBA career. Stevens was developing himself into an NBA coach during that time too, and Danny Ainge wasn’t going to waste any time giving him the opportunity in Boston.
Stevens gained the attention and interest from many bigger schools before making the jump to the NBA, including Wake Forest, Oregon, Clemson, Illinois, and the storied program of UCLA. He turned all of them down despite the rumors of seeking a higher paying job, but Ainge offered Stevens an opportunity he couldn’t resist.
On July 3, 2013, Stevens was signed by the Boston Celtics to become their next head coach. The Celtics were entering years of known rebuilding, and Ainge gave Stevens the contract that ensured he would be around for the long haul to give the Celtics the chance to rise back to the top of the NBA ranks.
Stevens signed a six-year deal, worth $22 million. He led the Celtics to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs in his second season, something no one was expecting, not yet at least. Stevens led a roster of shifting players and roster changes and continued to be competitive and successful even after his point guard Rajon Rondo was dealt away to Dallas.
Stevens prides himself on fundamentals, teamwork, and culture. Many attributed the success of the Butler basketball program to his coaching style and calm nature, and the fans in Boston are beginning to see why. Stevens continues to climb the coaching ranks, and has gained the respect of his peers and players. With Mike Krzyzewski retiring from USA basketball after the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, don’t be surprised if USA basketball executive director, Jerry Colangelo, calls on Brad Stevens to be the next head coach.