Making the coaching jump from college basketball to the NBA isn’t an easy transition. When the Boston Celtics announced they hired Butler head coach Brad Stevens as the next leader of their storied organization, it received a mixed reaction.
Some folks thought this would be a perfect fit, that Stevens will be able to take a team that’s in a rebuilding phase and restore it to a championship contender. Those more pessimistic of the hire believe that Stevens will fizzle out and become just another college coach who failed at basketball’s highest level.
It’s understandable to be skeptical about Stevens and his ability to coach in the NBA. After all, NCAA championship head coach John Calipari had a career record of 72-112 when he made the jump from the University of Massachusetts to the New Jersey Nets in 1996. Two-time NCAA champion and future Hall of Famer Rick Pitino never reached the playoffs in his four seasons at the helm of the Celtics.
If those two revered coaches couldn’t win on the pro level, how can the 36-year-old Brad Stevens?
There’s good news out there, nay-sayers, because Brad Stevens will be a successful coach in Boston for two major reasons: basketball intellect and player relationships.
It’s a simple formula for success in the NBA, but one that eludes most coaches, specifically those with previous success in the college ranks.
The biggest difference between Stevens and guys like Calipari and Pitino is mentality. Both Calipari and Pitino have the “my way or the highway,” attitude, which can be successful at the college level. Trying to scream at guys for not getting back on defense quickly enough isn’t really how things work with professional athletes.
Throughout his six-year stint with the Bulldogs, Stevens was known more as a coach who worked with and believed in his players, which translates much better into the NBA world. Stevens understands that the athletes on the floor are the stars and that’s a big step in the right direction in building strong relationships with players on and off the court.
Stevens has often said his philosophy is being able to get the most out of his players and helping them improve in the areas that need improvement. While that seems like a typical answer, I guarantee Pitino was more concerned with offensive and defensive sets than helping guys improve.
As for his intellect, it’s hard to argue against Stevens as being the smartest coach in college basketball. During Butler’s NCAA tournament championship runs in 2010 and 2011, he always had the Bulldogs prepared for their next opponent, knowing what plays to run, who to double-team and who to get the ball to in certain situations.
Let’s face it, you don’t get a mid-major collegiate basketball program to win 166 games, five conference tournament championships, four regular season conference championships, appear in five NCAA tournaments and reach two NCAA national championship games in six years without knowing what you’re doing.
The bottom line? Relax, Boston. You’re new coach isn’t going to disappoint you like Pitino did 12 years ago.
The future of the Celtics organization is in good hands. In less fewer than five years, Stevens will have Boston back in the hunt for NBA titles again.