NCAA BK

Stevens among best coaches — ever

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Jeff Goodman

Jeff Goodman is a senior college basketball writer for FOXSports.com. Check out his Yardbarker blog. MORE>>
 
   
 

HOUSTON

Brad Stevens is a stickler for the rulebook.

He has his compliance director, Beth Goetz, on speed dial and wouldn't even comment about a committed recruit in a deserted parking lot last summer in Las Vegas.

However, one rule needs to be broken with regards to the Bulldogs' 34-year-old coach.

They need to put him in the Hall of Fame.

Now.

Let’s waive the Hall of Fame’s protocol of 25 active years or five years in retirement and just send Opie Taylor, I mean Stevens, to Springfield, Mass., immediately.

Why waste time?

Stevens has already earned it among the game’s greats.

Yes, after just four years.

Stevens has an 11-3 overall mark in the Big Dance, and his winning percentage tops all active coaches. It’s not all that far behind the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden.

I’m not ready to say he’s going to be more successful than Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski or even Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, but I'm not sure Coach K or Izzo could have done what Stevens has at Butler.

He’s taken a mid-major program to the ultimate landing spot. Twice.

He's won 117 games in his first four years — a number surpassed by no one at the Division I level.

It’s true he lost to Coach K and the Blue Devils one year ago at this time — and I might be jumping the gun with his induction since the Bulldogs could well fall to UConn on Monday night.

However, Stevens has proved he’s one of the master coaches in this game at the tender age of 34.

He obviously has an eye for talent, he can manage and develop players — and he’s a terrific game coach, as well.

And he does it the right way.

"He's a dream," Goetz said on Sunday. "Not only does he ask questions, but he’s got a great grasp of what the rules are. We all know there are guys who play in the grey area, but Brad isn’t about to do that."

Stevens is almost too good to be true.

Goetz got a text from Stevens earlier this year while he was in St. Louis recruiting. He was standing outside the arena at Saint Louis University after a high school tournament concluded and was unable to get a cab.

He texted Goetz to see if it was a violation to hitch a ride from a man and his son, who had come up to him after seeing him standing alone on the street corner.

"It was about 11:30 and he wasn’t in a great area," said Goetz, who is from St. Louis. "I didn’t get the text until the next morning and called him back. He didn’t get in the car because he couldn’t get a hold of me."

He's so unassuming that, earlier this year, at a breakfast spot a few miles from the Butler campus, he settled in to a corner table and remained virtually anonymous, going as far as to serve himself coffee.

So smart and articulate that he could talk for hours without ever giving the media anything close that borders on bulletin board material.

Butler associate head coach Matthew Graves has been around Stevens for a decade and said his choir boy image is dead-on.

"We try and get under his skin and jab him," Graves said. "But nothing works. I can’t even describe it.”

His seniors couldn’t come up with anything out of character, either, except for maybe when he jumps them in practice on occasion.

"When I made some fancy behind-the-back pass," senior guard Shawn Vanzant said. "He let me have it."

"He rarely uses profanities," added fellow guard Chase Stigall. "It's far and few between."

Even Stevens had a difficult time trying to recall the most trouble he ever got into when he was a kid growing up in Zionsville, Ind.

"I can tell you," Stevens said. "I wasn’t perfect. I got into trouble."

Then he dropped the bomb.

"When I didn’t play hard, I heard about it," Stevens said with a straight face.

"I got grounded a couple times when I was late coming home," he added without a hint of sarcasm.

Oh, man. Lock him up and throw away the key.

Stevens is a different breed, almost the antithesis of his adversary Monday night: UConn’s 68-year-old coach Jim Calhoun.

Stevens is young and has no ego, and you could scour the entire coaching fraternity without hearing a single negative word.

Stevens has only been at the helm for four seasons since Todd Lickliter left for what appeared to be greener pastures and went to Iowa.

He's led the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament all four years — which is an impressive accomplishment.

But he’s now making his second consecutive appearance in the national championship game.

That’s difficult to comprehend.

Unfathomable.

Villanova’s Jay Wright has just one more NCAA tournament victory and he’s been at this for 17 years since he first took the Hofstra job in 1994.

Jamie Dixon just completed his eighth season at Pittsburgh, and he and Stevens are deadlocked with 11 NCAA tournament victories.

"It's amazing what he’s done," Izzo said moments after watching Butler knock off VCU to advance to the national title game. "Amazing."

Amazing enough to put him among the greats. Yes, even after just four years.
 

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