Perhaps I would’ve learned more from Brad Stevens had I not been buried in my very-2009 Sprint Palm Pixie. When I wasn’t texting about a ho hum Monday night basketball game vs. Duke like in the right corner of the above photo, I did pick up a few seemingly insignificant anecdotes that explain why Brad Stevens-coached teams always have a slight edge.
Somewhere in the depths of Romania this year, you would find a basketball player named Jarvis Threatt. He was a pretty good college player at Delaware, earning some All-Colonial recognition before being kicked off the team as a rising senior. He had a cup of coffee in the D-League (Gatorade doesn’t sponsor my blog) and now he’s floating around the globe playing professionally.
We had the exciting assignment of playing Delaware in the 2012 CBI. I didn’t sit near the bench very often in those days, but we were short-staffed and I was at the table for our “postseason” game against Threatt and the Blue Hens. Threatt was a good player, about 10 points per game that year as a freshman, but an atrocious 3-point shooter. Clearly, Butler would let him shoot from the outside, stop everyone else, rebound the ball and win.
During the game, Threatt made a 3-pointer. Immediately, Brad turned to the bench and lamented, “That guy is shooting 31% from 3.” Most coaches can’t keep track of fouls and timeouts and defensive match-ups without a lot of help. Threatt, who came off the bench by the way, made two 3s and was left mostly unguarded that night. Naturally, Butler won 75-58.
The Edge: Brad knows his opponents’ rosters and their stats. In his head. In real time.
The year before our epic CBI game against Delaware, we made it to the final game in Houston against Connecticut. On Thursday of that week, the communications contacts for the four schools have a meeting and then tour the building and get organized before the teams come to the arena for media sessions and CBS and all of the other required programming.
My job that day was to meet the team at the door, and show everyone to the locker room and then help shuttle people where they needed to go. By the time the team arrived, I had been around Reliant Stadium a few times and knew what to do. However, I was carrying a million papers, 2 laptops and a camera – so I probably didn’t look like it. It didn’t matter.
Brad knew his way around the stadium despite never having been there. He even inquired about using the Houston Texans weight room when we walked by it.
The Edge: He is always prepared. Down to the smallest detail, despite having people in charge of helping him. Nothing up to chance.
This final anecdote is something that happened in every college game he coached, and it stood out to me for some reason. And I rarely see it in other coaches, men or women.
In college basketball, there’s a “media” timeout at the first deadball after 16, 12, 8 and 4 minutes on the clock. In fact, I’ve always considered it one of my jobs at the table to yell “Media!” to let everyone on the bench know.
(Fun tip for athletics communications folks: I used to tweet “Media! <Some type of game update>” for timeouts. Then I’d tweet a photo from the huddle during the break. I thought that provided insight to what you can’t see on TV and a behind-the-scenes element few get to in-game.)
What was different about Brad in this sense was how quickly and efficiently he would get to these timeouts. The buzzer would still be vibrating and he’d be out on the court and the managers would have the chairs out and the timeout would be underway. The other team was usually still coaching or trying to make subs, then realizing that it was a “Media!”
The Edge: Brad’s teams are always a step ahead mentally and run a little leaner than most teams. The next time you attend a college basketball game, watch the 2 coaches/benches as the buzzer sounds under 16, 12, 8 and 4. You’ll see who is thinking one step ahead.
There were some other examples I thought of: how he duped a snooping opponent while shopping for a Christmas present in Hawaii, how the only media request he granted on the day of the Duke game was his alma mater’s radio station and why he called me soft on the day we announced our membership in the Atlantic-10.
But I like these anecdotes best, and I think they illustrate why nobody will need to tell him this coming week that #23 on Cleveland is pretty good.