Brad Stevens is slowly scrubbing away at the notion that college coaches can’t succeed in the NBA. While his rebuilding Celtics are still a work-in-progress, Stevens is doing some of his finest teaching – ahem, coaching – despite some early season struggles.
“The losing is frustrating,” said Stevens of the 5-11 Celtics. “But you have to get back up off the mat and go back to work. Some of the best catapults of a season are tough losses.”
Stevens, who spoke to SI.com at a team charity event Thursday for Boston’s anti-poverty agency ABCD, knows his fair share about tough losses. He brought his unheralded Butler squad to back-to-back NCAA national championship games, losing in 2012 to Duke when Gordon Hayward’s last-second heave careened off the rim.
“It’s funny,” said Stevens. “When people think of Gordon, they think of him missing one shot. But there’s a lot more to him than that, and we’re not in that position without him. One of the things I’ve learned over time is that it really is about the process and the journey.
“Let’s say you achieve the ultimate goal and win it. Then, the next day, you’re pursuing it again. That’s why you can never let off the gas. You have to keep going and pursuing being the best you can every day.”
Mere hours before a game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Stevens admitted the lack of time to prepare for opponents stands as the most substantial difference between the college ranks and the pros.
“It’s the 82-game season,” he said. “Look at this week. We’re in Atlanta on Tuesday, fly back to play Detroit, Thursday is an off-day, [Friday] at 11 in the morning we have a walkthrough and then we play the Lakers in the evening.
“How are you going to get ready for Kobe and the Lakers in a walkthrough?”
Despite the rigors of the regular-season slate, Stevens says he’s enjoying his time in Boston and being in a new city.
“It’s great to see what people do for each other,” said Stevens. “One of the things my wife Tracy and I have always wanted is, first and foremost, to be part of a community. Our jobs and what we do for a living? That’s a lot less important than being good members of a community. That’s a big reason why we live here, and hopefully we can help where we can help.”
But not all parts of city life are enjoyable, particularly for a man born and raised in Zionsville, Indiana.
“I still get lost every time I drive downtown,” he said. “But I’ll figure that out over time.”
One thing Stevens doesn’t have to figure out is his point guard position. After missing the majority of last season, Rajon Rondo has played in all but one game for the Celtics this season. While the talented point guard’s name is constantly popping up in trade rumors, Stevens says he’s been a rock for Boston this year.
“Rondo’s really a special player that can make plays for others,” said Stevens. “He’s been great as far as working with me and working together. It’s fun to have a guy that can do so many things on the court. And it’s also fun to have a guy who, when things don’t go his way, he comes to the gym and works hard at his game. Not everybody’s like that.”
After losing 49 games in his six seasons at Butler, Stevens’ Celtics dropped 57 games in his first season with the team. Despite the uphill climb ahead, the 38-year-old remains undaunted as he tries to lead a rebuilding franchise.
“We’ve lost enough close games,” he said. “Hopefully we’ve had to assess ourselves at a different level than a lot of teams have, and maybe we get better later on because of that. But we’ll go back to work and try to figure it out.”