- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Stevens sustained the relationships. Eastman recalls hustling through an airport in the spring of 2008 and getting a cell call from Stevens. He hunched down in a corner to escape the background noise and talked pick-and-roll angles with Stevens for 20 minutes.
Two years later forward Gordon Hayward, the best player on Stevens's first Final Four team, left Butler for the NBA after his sophomore season and was drafted ninth by the Jazz. Stevens bought the NBA cable package to catch Utah's games, but found himself watching other teams too. "He wasn't watching them as a fan," Tracy says. "He was watching them as a student." She would find scraps of paper around the house, with plays scribbled on them.
With Butler's success, Stevens was predictably pursued by brand-name programs in search of a miracle. Oregon, Clemson, Wake Forest, Illinois and, last spring, UCLA were among the suitors whose identities were made public. As Stevens declined ever more offers—he concedes there were more than 10—he and Tracy came to realize, without ever voicing it, that they would probably never leave the Bulldogs for another college job. "And then," says Tracy, "with the UCLA thing, you had to think, If we wouldn't leave to go there, where would we go?"
The NBA stuck in the back of Brad's mind. In a phone conversation last spring with Josh Burch, a college teammate at DePauw and a close friend since, Burch recalls that Stevens said, "Nothing is going to happen unless it's NBA-related." Burch hung up the phone and said to his wife, "Brad just said the weirdest thing," because he had never before heard Stevens mention moving to the pros. In fact, he had been moving in that direction for most of his life.
STEVENS MOVED from Greenville, S.C., to Zionsville, Ind., half an hour north of Indianapolis, as a four-year-old, and it's difficult to imagine a kid who subsequently drank more deeply of the state's basketball obsession. The only child of Mark, an orthopedic surgeon, and Jan, a professor, he lived in a subdivision near a boy named Brandon Monk, whose family built a 50-foot-long full court in the backyard. Stevens and his crew would play all morning, mow some lawns to make a little cash, eat grilled-cheese sandwiches for lunch and then play more games into the night. The movie Hoosiers was released when Stevens and his buddies were 10 years old, and while it's true that they memorized every word and every moment in the film, that doesn't do justice to their experience. "That movie wasn't a throwback for us," says Monk. "That was our life."
Stevens made the Zionsville High varsity as a 6'1" freshman. The downtown school had been replaced with a sleeker version on the outskirts of town, but the gym was left standing, and it was a gem. "The locker room was downstairs," says Stevens. "You had to duck or you'd hit your head." They played games in a few gyms that were featured in Hoosiers. Stevens became friends with a retired coach named Jim Rosenstihl, who had coached Rick Mount at nearby Lebanon High. Together they watched films of Mount's All-America career at Purdue in Rosenstihl's basement.
Like the fictional Hickory High (and the very real Milan High), Stevens and his peers played when the Indiana state tournament was one class, and winning the eight-team sectional made any season a success. In Stevens's junior year Zionsville lost in the sectional final to North Montgomery High, and Stevens and Monk went directly to Monk's house to drown their sorrows in jump shots. "Freezing our butts off in the dark, outdoors in the middle of February," says Monk. A year later Zionsville won its sectional for just the third time since 1959. Playing against defenses designed to stop him, Stevens scored 97 points in three sectional games. His career totals of 1,508 points, 444 assists and 156 steals remain school records to this day.
It would fit the narrative of the future coaching prodigy if Stevens had been a thinking man's high school player. He wasn't. At least not in the truest sense. "He was a very intelligent kid, really smart," says Phil Isenbarger, an attorney who played on Indiana's 1981 NCAA championship team and worked with Zionsville High as a volunteer when Stevens was a player. "But I'm not sure he relied on that as a high school player. He was more, I'm going to figure out how to score, than, Let's attack their weaknesses. He was a scorer, that's what he was."
STEVENS HAD hoped to receive a Division I scholarship but received only a single offer, from Mercer in Macon, Ga. (an offer that Stevens suspects was arranged by Rosenstihl, who died in 2008). It came late, and Stevens says that upon visiting Mercer, with an acceptance to a combined degree-internship program at DePauw already in hand, he decided to decline it. After all, he could be a star at DePauw. Except that he couldn't. "I think it sunk in pretty early for Brad that even though it's Division III," says Burch, "there are some pretty good basketball players."
Stevens had been a do-everything high school player. He could shoot like any Hoosier, but he could also post up smaller guards, grab offensive rebounds, drive and get fouled. "But his high school game," says Fenlon, the DePauw coach, "didn't always translate well as a college player." Stevens averaged a fairly steady 18 minutes and eight points in his first three years at DePauw, peaking as a sophomore on the first of two consecutive 12--13 teams. In Stevens's senior year he started several early games, but Fenlon had recruited a strong freshman class and Stevens's minutes declined as the year played out. He responded by beating the underclassmen in scrimmages. After one such episode, Fenlon called Stevens and Burch into his office and explained to them that their role wasn't to defeat the young starters but rather to make them better.