When it comes to the Celtics’ star coach Brad Stevens, fans have become familiar with his steady hand in guiding a young and ever-improving Boston roster. What was supposed to be a lengthy rebuild turned into a rapid improvement, an impressive feat given the Celtics youthful rosters of the past four seasons. Stevens won 48 games last year with the NBA’s fifth youngest roster. He and the Celtics are on pace to do even better this year, with a similarly youthful roster. The legend of Brad Stevens goes back a ways, but we’ll go back about a decade.
In 2007, he became the second-youngest coach in Division 1 basketball. It took him one season to earn a seven-year contract extension at the practically shockingly young age of 31. In 2009, after losing four starters, he led Butler to 26 wins and an NCAA Tournament birth. Stevens’ 56–10 two-year record placed him second only to Bill Guthridge (58) in total wins during one’s first two years as head coach. He received a one-year extension.
The 2010 season is the one that put Stevens, rightfully, in the spotlight. He set the record for most wins by a coach in his first three seasons. Butler completed an 18–0 undefeated conference schedule, its first undefeated conference record since joining the Horizon League, and first since Joe Sexson led the 1978 team to a 6–0 record in the now defunct Indiana Collegiate Conference. Stevens earned his third straight regular-season conference championship. What happened next was simply one of the most impressive runs by a mid-major team in NCAA Tournament history.
While there are 351 programs in Division 1 men’s basketball, only a small group routinely find success. Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky make up the short list. The resources in those programs are unlimited. Butler? Yes, it’s located in hoops hotbed Indiana. But with a total enrollment of less than 5,000 students and a school that, until recently, was rarely on television, Butler is not at all to be confused with Duke or Kentucky in college hoops.
Butler’s 2010 season became folklore after Stevens’ Bulldogs won four NCAA Tournament games to earn a trip back to Indianapolis for the first Final Four appearance in school and Horizon League history. The win made Stevens, at age 33, the youngest coach to lead a team to the Final Four since Bob Knight made his first Final Four appearance at age 32 in 1973. Butler became the smallest school (enrollment 4,200) to make the Final Four since seeding began in 1979. While they eventually lost a nail biter to Duke in the title game, Stevens was just getting started.
Buoyed by a lengthy tournament run where he got more attention than expected, star player Gordon Hayward surprisingly entered the NBA Draft. It didn’t matter. Stevens led Butler back to the title game, an indisputably astounding feat given Butler’s size among 350 other Division 1 programs. No, they did not win a title. But being better than 349 other Division 1 programs, at BUTLER, for two years straight speaks for itself.
In Boston, all Stevens has done is streamline what was supposed to a rebuilding “period”, taking a 27-win 2014 team to 41 wins the following year. After 2014, the Celtics have improved each year under his watch, and the same is true this year. The accolades do not appear to be slowing down either. With a win on Friday or Sunday against either LA team or a Toronto loss in one of the next two games, Stevens will coach the East in next weekend’s All-Star Game. For a team staring at a top pick and tons of free agent spending money this summer, Stevens could get a chance to do something he did so well at Butler: Recruit. Just know he doesn’t need stars to keep winning.