In 2011, Brad Stevens pulled off one of the most impressive feats in college coaching history when he guided Butler University, a from-nowhere underdog, to its second consecutive NCAA national championship game. Last year, the 37-year-old wunderkind, known for his quiet, levelheaded disposition, was tapped to coach the Boston Celtics—a team currently in the throes of a long rebuilding phase. With one (extremely rocky) NBA season under his belt, Stevens offers his observations from the sidelines.
Is your calm demeanor a conscious part of your coaching philosophy?
My philosophy is simply that you do 99% of your work behind the scenes, and when the game comes around, hopefully you can perform with a feeling of being well prepared. That’s really all I can do. I want my guys confident. I don’t look at myself as an overly calm person.
Would you say your temperament is misperceived?
Yes, I would. I’m not going to do cartwheels on the baseline very often. Hopefully I won’t lose my mind very often. You’re trying to stay measured, not necessarily to live up to that billing. It’s more about thinking about the next play.
How is the style of play at the highest level evolving?
The game has become one more of skill and speed than size, which is what it used to be. Some of the best teams in the league, like the [Indiana] Pacers, do have that traditional size, whereas other great teams have skilled size—guys who are really lean, really skilled, and really agile, and their length makes up for any lack of weight.
What’s the role of diet in the basketball lifestyle?
Nutrition and sleep are two of the most underrated things, especially with younger kids. [They’re crucial] not only for performing in athletics, but also for performing in school and being at your best and maximizing yourself in all you do.
Do you recommend napping to your team?
I more encourage sleeping at night. If they nap, they nap.
Should players hit the weight room hard?
Strength is never a negative. The stronger you are, the more you’re able to defend. The more physical you are, the better you are. The top teams in the NBA are the most physical teams, too. There are appropriate ways to lift in basketball that may not be applicable to football. In basketball, you want to maximize your explosiveness. For some guys, that means trimming down; for some that means getting stronger in the legs and the core, becoming more explosive laterally, up and down.
If I’m a player and I’m not hitting my shots, do you bench me or leave me in to work it out?
Production is the bottom line. If the team—not necessarily you—statistically produces when you’re on the court, then you’re going to win. But you want to build confidence in your players. As a coach, you have to have a short-term memory when it comes to shooting. Let it fly and move on.
What are the qualities you look for in a prospective player?
A baseline level of talent, then you’re looking for guys that are into the team. Their presence in the locker room raises everybody else on the court. There are a few teams that just exude that. And there are a lot of us who are striving to get to the point where you have that perfect mix.
What do tyrannical basketball coaches get wrong?
There isn’t a right style or a wrong style. I’ve known plenty of guys who are considered screamers and they get a lot out of their team, and the players love them.
So, are fear and intimidation motivators?
Not in the long run. I believe you’re either intrinsically motivated or you’re not.
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