Stevens decision to leave Butler has ripple effect

Stevens decision to leave Butler has ripple effect
July 10, 2013, 12:15 pm
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ORLANDO, Fla. — As the father of a Division I basketball recruit, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown made a point of getting to know as best he could all the coaches that recruited his son Elijah.

Among them was Brad Stevens of Butler, viewed at the time in some circles as a coaching savant who was the winningest coach in NCAA Division I men's basketball history through his first six seasons on the job.

A college coach that good has to be thinking about coming to the NBA, right?

So Brown did what any parent would do.

He asked questions.

"When I asked him (about the NBA) during the recruiting process, I knew it was a loaded question," Brown told in a phone interview. "And he answered it fairly."

And it was that even-keeled demeanor that made Brown excited about the idea that his son Elijah had decided to sign a letter of intent to play for the Butler Bulldogs in April.

But in his conversations with Stevens, he knew the possibility of him leaving for the NBA was there.

"The only thing I hoped was that he would stay all four of Elijah's years," Brown said. "He answered the question the right way, just like he handled this process in my opinion. I don't know if he could have handled this in any better way."

And that is why the news that Stevens was leaving Butler to coach the Celtics was a bittersweet moment for the Brown family.

"I'm extremely excited for Brad and his family," Brown said. "It couldn't have happened to a better guy. Obviously his coaching speaks volumes for itself. You're just really happy for the guy and his family. You like to see guys like him 'win' in life."

Brown added, "But having said that, as a parent, it was a big blow from the standpoint of, you didn't see it coming."

Brown said there was never anger towards Stevens for his decision, but disappointment that their son, a 3-star recruit who won a pair of state titles in Santa Ana, Calif., will not get a chance to suit up for Stevens.

"You want them around role models, not only on the floor but off the floor too," Brown said. "When you think of Brad Stevens and what he's done and what he's about, you just don't think -- at least from a parent's standpoint -- you don't look at his record or going to the NCAA championship game twice. You look at him as a human being and what he has done for the men who have played for him, off the floor."

That ability to connect with players, particularly young ones, was one of the many reasons Danny Ainge made Stevens his number one priority.

And Ainge and the Celtics followed that effort up with an unprecedented commitment to Stevens in the form of a six-year, $22 million contract.

"Brad's success will be determined a lot by what we do, what I do to support him, what ownership does to support us," said Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations.

Said Brown: "After getting over the initial shock and feeling good for coach and his family then you realize that it's part of life and the kids, they're going to be fine."

Brown said he and Stevens have not talked NBA shop yet, but the recruiting process did allow both men a chance to see how the other went about doing his job.

Brown recalls Stevens spending some time at a couple of training camps during Brown's first stint as the Cavaliers head coach (2005-2010).

And the recruiting process has allowed Brown to get a sense of what Stevens did at Butler, ideas and concepts that Brown said could easily translate to the NBA.

"There are things that in the short amount of time I have been around and focused in on Butler, talking to Brad, there are things that I have taken from what he's done, watching them the past year or so during the recruiting process, that I will utilize with my current team," Brown said.

Many of the same qualities that made Brown and his family feel comfortable with Elijah going to Butler are the same traits Brown believes will serve Stevens well as the 17th head coach in Celtics' history.

"You look at the way he carried himself," Brown said. "You look at the calming influence he has over players during crucial times, in games. Different situations like when he was in the NCAA championship game. That translates well for a young guy coming to the pro ranks. His guys will appreciate his demeanor; they will grow and learn and excel from it."

Brown added that having someone like Ainge in his corner only enhances the likelihood that Stevens will be successful.

"He's with a guy in Danny Ainge who has a great track record in doing things the right way," Brown said. "Danny understands that it's going to be a process. That's evident in the confidence they gave him in terms of his deal. I think he'll be fine. We know when you have a young team and you go through a rebuilding process, you're going to experience your ups, you're going to experience your downs. But if there's a guy that can handle that, it's definitely him."

Brown added, "You're talking about a guy that is very, very steady. Seems to always have things under control, no matter if both sides are going ballistic or not. So when you see that steadiness, that calmness when you feel it when you're around it, it bodes well for you feeling good about dropping your son off here whether it's a few hundred or a few thousand miles away. You know that calming influence is going to be there."

Butler didn't take long -- three days, actually -- to find Stevens' replacement in 34-year-old Brandon Miller who, like Stevens, ascended to the head coaching job at Butler after serving as an assistant coach with the Bulldogs.

Even though Stevens is gone, Brown is still excited that his son is part of the Butler family.

But he couldn't help but give Ainge and former Celtics coach Doc Rivers (now senior vice president and head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers) some good-natured ribbing for their roles in all this and its effect on the Brown household.

"I sent them a text and blamed it all on them," quipped Brown. "They both told me that to make up for it, they'll both draft Elijah when he comes out. I'll take that swap."