Lexington—Butler coach Brad Stevens is the worst kept secret in college basketball.
Everyone has known that Stevens is a good coach. But this year, people are getting a chance to understand and break down just how good he is.
After all, you don’t boast a 12-4 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament record and have the most victories in Division I men’s basketball in your first six years as coach of a single team, if you are an average coach.
But it’s not just the record that is impressive about Stevens. It’s his demeanor, his commitment to Butler and his knowledge of statistics and of the game.
Now, I’m not saying that Butler takes it all for granted. School officials proved that when they extended his contract through 2021-2022 and, in all honesty, when they made the decision to join the Big East.
And I’m not saying that local media—myself included—take him for granted. We all know how good he is.
What I am saying is that I have been amazed at the celebrity status he has achieved in Lexington this week, not only among media members, but among other coaches and teams as well.
Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said watching tapes on Butler was like watching a coaching clinic. And Marquette coach Buzz Williams said he holds Stevens in the highest regard.
“Coach Stevens is a Hall of Fame coach,” Williams said. “He’s just not old enough for you to call him that yet.”
Even former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy got in on the Stevens love.
Dungy said in a tweet: “Brad Stevens is a great coach and a great person. I would love to have my son play for him.”
So everyone is in agreement that Stevens is better than good, right?
During a press conference, Stevens said Dungy was someone he would like to think he modeled his coaching style on, but he really couldn’t say that.
“I’ve always admired and thought that the ultimate coach was Tony Dungy,” Stevens said. “But he’s way better than I am and way more calm and poised than I am.”
This coming from the guy who crossed his arms and barely looked up at the scoreboard as sophomore forward Roosevelt Jones made a last-second, game-winning basket to beat then-No. 8 Gonzaga on ESPN College GameDay in January.
“I’m not near the coach that Coach Stevens is,” Williams said. “Our kids are not going to make a shot and my reaction is going to be the same way his.
“But I have great respect and admiration that he can operate like that.”
Despite the high regard from his peers, Stevens sees it differently.
“I think that that’s been sensationalized a bit,” Stevens said. “I don’t think I’m as cool and collected as everyone likes to talk about.
“Sometimes my competitive side spirit gets the best of me.”
Seniors Andrew Smith and Rotnei Clarke have seen that side of him, which not many others have.
“He’s usually calm and he really holds his composure well,” Clarke said. “When he’s upset, you’ll know. And we’ve known”
In spite of all of this, the biggest surprise the media has had this week was being introduced to Stevens’ knowledge of the game.
It truly started after the win against Bucknell, when he was discussing the triangle-and-two defense the Bison employed. He talked about how little the Bison had played in that formation, even breaking it down on a game-by-game basis.
“They played it for six possessions against LaSalle in December,” Stevens said. “And they played it one other time in one other game that I can remember.”
People at the press conference laughed, but I think they were really in shock. There was one that was ready to test his knowledge of Marquette and Davidson.
Of course Stevens, being who he is, credited his staff, including the overnight stat-phenomenon Drew Canon.
But don’t let the humbleness fool you. Stevens is a stat guy. Andrew Smith gave an example of his preparation for games on Selection Sunday. He said the Bulldogs learned they were paired with Bucknell and did about 15 minutes of media before going to the locker room to meet with Stevens.
“Coach came out and said, well, I’ve already watched 20 clips of Bucknell’s defense,” Smtih said. “We all just started laughing. I don’t even know where he gets that information so quickly.”
The fact remains that he does.
“He’s a pretty special coach,” Smith said, “and in my opinion the best coach in America. And I think he has proved it year in an year out.”
He manages to take less-than-top-rated players, put them together and create a national championship game caliber team. He manages to get the best from his players and gets them to buy into his program. He manages to at least fool all of us into thinking he does it all as the calmest coach in college basketball.
“I think the best piece of advice I got was right when I got the head coaching job at Butler,” Stevens said. “(One of my friends) said, ‘you know what? What I learned was you have to be yourself.’
“So I can tell you just be yourself and if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. At least that way you have no regrets with it.”