Picture a team whose players perfectly represent the school. So much so, you could probably guess who they play for…before they even put on their jerseys. And with a coach who is every bit the living, breathing embodiment of the team. That team is the Butler Bulldogs. And the coach is Brad Stevens.
I had the opportunity to hear from Coach Stevens as part of a guest lecture series at Indianapolis’ Woodstock Club last week. Stevens spoke with pride about the men’s basketball program and more so, the students he helped to develop over the last 13 years, six of them as head coach.
Butler’s rise under Stevens has been something of a fairy tale…especially its back-to-back Cinderella story dances in the NCAA Finals in 2010 and 2011. They finished runner-up both times, but Stevens says his coaching philosophy is to be invigorated by failure, not afraid of it.
“Some of the most difficult days were some of the most important days of our 13 years…You’ve got to have some of those low times that are really going to test your core. And test who you are. And test what your team is about.”
The Bulldogs face another big test this season, when they switch to their third league in three seasons. Butler played in the Horizon League before moving to the Atlantic 10 last season. Stevens says he looks forward to the 2013-2014 season in the Big East as both a challenge and an opportunity.
“The size, athleticism, and really tradition of the schools in our league are really remarkable when you consider that eight of the ten schools that are now in the Big East have been to Final Fours in my lifetime.”
Along with the new conference comes a lucrative contract with the new Fox Sports 1 network and the privilege of playing in Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. Stevens calls this an “exceptionally challenging new era” for the Bulldogs.
But if anyone can handle the pressure, it’s Brad Stevens.
Known for his ability to stay cool, I asked the coach how he remains so calm…specifically mentioning the Gonzaga game last season, when the Bulldogs won on a buzzer beater shot. As Hinkle Fieldhouse erupted, Stevens calmly turned and walked towards the opponent’s bench for the post game handshake.
He said the big games are the easiest to prepare for, because he doesn’t have to worry about motivating his team. They come in fired up and ready to play.
From there, it’s a chess match. One he’s proven he can win, time and time again.
No longer the protegé, Stevens has gone from being mentioned as one of the top young coaches in the NCAA to one of the top coaches in the NCAA.
Whoever said nice guys finish last, clearly didn’t know Brad Stevens.
Or Butler basketball.