By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
Pretty much on a daily basis, there is a bit of news or a rumor that shocks me. It lifts me out of my seat and spurs me on to know more. On Wednesday, the news of Brad Stevens taking the job with the Boston Celtics prompted such a reaction.
Stevens seemed to be the quintessential college coach. He had a background in the game as a player at a small school and was handed the reins to a traditional power in the mid-major ranks at a young age.
Butler University was where his coaching career took off, and he turned down several chances to leave for head jobs many would consider a step above his perch with the Bulldogs. He epitomized the “rise of the little guy,” taking back-to-back teams to the national title game and developing draft picks Gordon Heyward and Shelvin Mack.
The money and allure of coaching in the NBA—for a franchise with the massive prestige of the Celtics—was too much to turn down. It makes sense, and not many people blame Stevens for making the jump.
Still, it is a sad day for collegiate athletics. Stevens was a feel-good story, a modern coach at a traditional power who taught his team to play a brand of basketball straight out of “Hoosiers” while utilizing sabermetrics and cutting-edge analytics to maximize its potential.
I am a South Carolina native, but in basketball terms, I am a Hoosier. My dad grew up in Indianapolis when Bob Knight was building a powerhouse at Indiana. He learned to play the game the same way Stevens did, and he taught me the same game during my youth.
Brad Stevens was important to college basketball because his success spoke directly to people like me. He proved you can play an old-school style with a new-school approach—exactly as I would design it. He recruits and teaches to the concept of teamwork in a “me first” generation of basketball talent.
I have no doubt he will have success with the Celtics because he is sharp and savvy and able to communicate well with players. I think his brand can succeed, given time to develop chemistry among his players.
This storyline and these arguments connect directly to Clemson. The basketball program is run by a coach in Brad Brownell who grew up in the same hoops culture as Stevens. He runs a style that has its nuances, but its roots come from the same place as those of the Butler team that took the nation by storm during Stevens’ tenure.
I know many have disagreements about whether such a style of play can be imposed on a southern program with mediocre facilities and a poor historical track record and located in a place where players grow up learning a different kind of basketball. Those disagreements are understandable and well founded in many ways.
But when Butler’s job came open, I became worried about Clemson’s future. It was not so much about Brownell jumping to Butler—it appears a pair of assistants with ties to the program have emerged as favorites—but about Brownell leaving Clemson.
It is not easy to teach the kind of ball Brownell is trying to teach. But the rewards are sweet in the end.
Just ask Brad Stevens and Butler University. God Bless!