Blakely: C's 'hope this college kid is ready'

Blakely: C's 'hope this college kid is ready'
July 3, 2013, 7:15 pm
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BOSTON — To the surprise of many, the Boston Celtics have dipped into the college pool to nab their next coach by hiring 36-year-old Brad Stevens of Butler.

"Great coach" was how one NBA general manager described the hire to, but added, "but the NBA is a different animal than the college game."

And there lies the biggest concern with this hire.

No one questions Stevens' coaching acumen. He won more games in his first three seasons on the job at Butler than any coach in NCAA history. Only six years at Butler, and he already nabbed a pair of national coach of the Year awards. One league source described him as "one of the best coaches in the last 10 or 12 years, on the college level."

And there again lies the 'C' word - college.

But for a college coach making this kind of transition - a really, really young college coach at that - it takes more than X's and O's.

The last time the Celtics hired a coach from the college ranks, it was Rick Pitino who came with impeccable credentials. By the time he left, by anyone's definition his time with the Celtics was a disaster on so many levels.

And while Pitino had his struggles in Boston, his return to the college game proved that the problems he had in Boston were bigger than play-calling or who wasn't walking through that door.

Pitino returned to the college game and got back to doing what he does best - positioning college teams to compete at the highest level.

He is the only coach in NCAA history to lead three different schools (Providence, Kentucky and Louisville) to the NCAA Final Four, and the only coach to win national titles at two different schools (Kentucky and Louisville).

Stevens' teams at Butler had a pair of national championship appearances, coming up short in both instances to Duke and Connecticut in 2010 and 2011, respectively. But that doesn't make him any less of a college coach than Pitino.

There's that 'C' word ... again.

No matter how you look at this hire, you can't separate Stevens success as a coach from it coming solely at the college level which as we have seen, doesn't necessarily translate to the NBA.

Now Stevens' use of analytics in terms of preparation and scouting at Butler should help the learning curve in the NBA. But there are things that he will have to adapt as an NBA coach.

Getting guys to play hard in college is easy. If they don't, they don't play. And if they don't play, their chances of playing in the NBA dwindle.

But convincing grown men - some of whom will be older than Stevens - to give more is not going to be easy.

And we haven't even touched on how this will play out with Rajon Rondo, who admits that he can at times be difficult to coach.

As good as this hire may look on paper, the Celtics are just one of many teams that has seen coaching greatness on the college level come to the NBA only to leave those franchises in as bad - or worst - shape than they were earlier.

Let's hope this time around, this college kid is truly ready for the pros.