For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at www.twitter.com/Tom101010.
INDIANAPOLIS – A 9-2 start by the Butler men's basketball team has helped subdue the pang of Bulldog fans in not having legendary coach Brad Stevens on the sidelines this winter. He may not have the keys to Hinkle Fieldhouse anymore, but as he spoke Sunday during his return trip to Indianapolis, the program clearly still holds the key to Stevens' heart.
Stevens' Boston Celtics took on – and got pummeled by – the Indiana Pacers on Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and in his sessions with the media, Stevens spoke with great excitement and passion about his former employer.
“I don't think that I've missed a game since the first three or four,” Stevens said of following the Bulldogs. “I saw everyone in Orlando during the Thanksgiving week. We planned our whole day around it, just like a fan would.
“I saw the Purdue game last week. I watched a little bit of the North Dakota and Manchester games. I didn't get to see the game yesterday (at Evansville) because it wasn't on TV, but I obviously paid attention to the result.”
When Stevens accepted the position with the NBA club, he admittedly cried – several times – while digesting the thought of leaving Butler. But he also was ecstatic that he wouldn't have to get rid of his Butler gear because of coaching another college program. That love of the university – and its Bulldog-adorned golf shirts – also resonated with his family.
When Stevens' wife, Tracy, asked her kids where they wanted to visit on their return trip home Sunday, Hinkle Fieldhouse topped their list.
“The kids got to pick one place to visit today,” she tweeted. “I'm not sure why I asked, it was a no-brainer. Great to be back!”
Despite the rigors of an NBA schedule, Stevens not only stays informed on his former team by regularly watching it compete, but he has also reached out to some former players from “an appropriate distance.”
“I try to stay appropriate distance with regard to basketball stuff,” Stevens said. “My texts are usually 'great job,' 'really proud watching you,' and 'study.' I try to stay away from basketball stuff.”
Despite the program's consistent success for nearly a quarter of a century, long before Stevens entered the picture, the achievements of this Butler team has surprised many who believed that victories without Stevens would be far less frequent.
“Everybody can see,” Stevens said adamantly, “and I told you guys this in July, they are going to be a lot better off without me.”
That's a nice sentiment, even if it is nonsense. But the humble comment doesn't surprise anyone who has been around Stevens for any extended period of time. What may catch people off guard, however, is what the coach admitted to missing in his new position.
“I miss recruiting,” Stevens said. “I miss recruiting from this standpoint, I love getting to know the families and the people. By the time that I would get a new person on our (Butler) team, I would've spent a lot of time with that person and their family. When I commented on them in a national letter of intent signing, it was a pretty knowledgeable comment.
“In the NBA, if you change personnel pretty quickly, you may not know as much. You certainly don't know them personally.”