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Winning ways looked simple under Stevens

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I probably covered five or six of Zionsville High School’s boys basketball games when Brad Stevens was playing for the Eagles in the mid-1990s.

Not blessed with tremendous quickness or a trampoline vertical, the slender guard who later played at DePauw University did little to call attention to himself during the four quarters of action.

Then, after totaling your own statistical chicken scratch following the final buzzer, you noticed Stevens finished with 20-something points, a few rebounds, a handful of assists and some steals.

Then, like now, the new coach of the Boston Celtics had a knack for making success look easy.

Like most basketball fans, I was stunned upon learning Stevens would be leaving Butler University for a franchise responsible for raising 17 NBA championship banners and making icons out of Cousy, Russ, Hondo and Larry.

The thought of Stevens, 36, keeping an office inside Hinkle Fieldhouse into his 50s, 60s or even 70s never once came off as far-fetched. He’s an Indiana guy held in the highest regard everywhere he goes. An approachable local celebrity and family man with nary a smidge of controversy in his background.

And if Stevens was going to leave, surely it would be for one of three greener coaching pastures: Indiana University, Duke University or the University of North Carolina.

But the Celtics?

My first impulse was to remember how the professional game chewed up and spit out Rick Pitino, a Hall of Famer who from 1997-2001 posted a migraine-creating 102-146 (.411) mark as Celtics head coach.

Slick Rick’s spit-shined college résumé wound up meaning little at the highest level. But then you try winning with a starting front line of Ron Mercer, Antoine Walker and Tony Battie.

Equally as disastrous is John Calipari’s two-plus seasons as head coach of the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets. The current Kentucky Wildcats coach from 1996-99 led the Nets to only 72 victories in 184 tries (.391).

It could be argued these failures helped springboard

Pitino and Calipari toward the fruits both have recently enjoyed: Cal leading Kentucky to the 2012 national title and Pitino duplicating the feat with Louisville 12 months later.

Whether Stevens can buck this trend is anybody’s guess.

On one hand I could see Boston’s 2013-14 season being a complete Dumpster fire with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in Brooklyn and the employment status of temperamental guard Rajon Rondo somewhat uncertain.

It also wouldn’t be a major shock if Stevens maximizes this roster of no-names (Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Indianapolis product Courtney Lee, etc.) to the point of the No. 7 or 8 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. He’s that good of a coach and communicator.

Whatever the case, the Celtics have added some backers here in the Hoosier State. Not close to the degree of Larry Bird going there straight out of Indiana State University back in 1979, but a sprinkling of fans nonetheless.

Years from now when the chicken scratch is added up and Stevens’ coaching career is complete, I’m confident we’re going to be pleasantly surprised by the end result.


Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. Contact him at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.

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