During his glistening coaching tenure at Butler, Brad Stevens and his Bulldogs have landed on the right side of the scoreboard when it comes to game-winning, final-seconds baskets.
The Butler Legion remembers game-winning three pointers from Zach Hahn and A.J. Graves in nail-biting, final-breath triumphs in the early days of the Stevens watch. In Hawaii this season, the Bulldogs knocked out Marquette on a horn-beating three pointer from Rontei Clarke. But perhaps the most talked about heart-stopping, down-to-the-last-second winning basket during the Stevens tour came in December when a Roosevelt Jones basket sent Hinkle Fieldhouse into frenzy as Butler slayed nationally-ranked Gonzaga.
But lodged in the memory of the 36-year-old Stevens is another last-second shot that left him devastated as a sophomore at Zionsville High School. “We were playing Lebanon in the Sectional finals,” remembered Stevens, “and we lost at the buzzer. I can’t remember the kid’s name from Lebanon, but he was left-handed and he made a shot to beat us. That had to be my worst memory at Zionsville.”
But that was a rare downer for Stevens during his days growing up in the land of the Eagles in the neatly-attired suburban Indianapolis community in Boone County. “I loved growing up in Zionsville,” Stevens fondly recalled.
The Zionsville chapter for Stevens started in 1979 when the three-year-old and his parents moved to Indiana from Greenville, South Carolina. The family landed in Zionsville’s Colony Woods neighborhood. Father Mark became an orthopedic surgeon at Ortho Indy and mother Jan took a position as a professor at IUPUI.
And the younger Stevens? He enjoyed the life of riding his bicycle, playing basketball, and hanging out with his young friends. And the safety net of Zionsville provided Stevens with a backdrop that made it seem as if the Ward Cleaver family from Leave It to Beaver had left Hollywood and moved to Indiana. All that was missing was Wally, the older brother.
“It (Zionsville) was a great place,” Stevens said. “I had great friends growing up. I still keep in touch with them. We would play basketball, then get on our bicycles and go to the Dairy Queen. I wouldn’t trade those days in Zionsville for anything.”
An early key crossroads for Stevens came when he turned eight. His mother provided a new basketball hoop. But even that valued gift did not stop Stevens from gathering with friends at the basketball court in the back yard of neighbor Brandon Monk. Complete with free throw and three-point lines and glass backboards, the future Eagle teammates had their original home court.
But the back yard gang at Monk’s would sprout in age and size and would march on to Zionsville High School and the legendary Zionsville High School Varsity Gym.
“It was straight out of a movie, just like the gymnasium in Hoosiers,” Stevens said. “It could hold 3,000 fans and the seating went all around the floor. It was like the fans were in the game with you.”
And the Eagle fandom enjoyed what they witnessed from Stevens, Monk, and others. Zionsville ended a 10-year Sectional drought when it eliminated Southmont, North Montgomery, and host Lebanon. Not even a regional loss to Brownsburg diminished the accomplishments of that March week for Stevens, who scored 97 points in his senior season’s Sectional tournament.
The victory celebration spilled over into the locker room after the championship game when Mark Stevens lived up to a promise made to his son and teammates. The older Stevens volunteered to have his head shaved if the Eagles won the Sectional.
So long hair, dad. And goodbye Zionsville High School, son. After setting four school records – season scoring average (26.8), career points (1,508), assists (491), and three pointers (138) – a college career was calling. A deadly and long-range shooter (high school coach Dave Zollman noted that when Stevens walked into a gym he was within his range), Stevens respected his playing shortcomings. He respected the scouting reports that he was missing the skills to play for his childhood favorite, Indiana. Thus, the Stevens journey continued at DePauw, a Division III contingent.
“I could come off screens and score,” said Stevens, who repeatedly urged point-guard Monk to watch for his opening. “I was a scoring guard. But I wasn’t very good on defense.”
The idols were those with shooting skills. Included in that list was Indiana’s Steve Alford, Pacer Reggie Miller, and another Hoosier, Jay Edwards, “who made very clutch shot he ever took.”
And Brad Stevens has converted almost every clutch play in his coaching life at Butler. There were the two Final Four appearances. The victory over No. 1 Indiana this season. And another 20-plus victory season in 2012-13. Success seems to be his shadow.
“He’s competitive and he’s composed,” assessed Indianapolis Star writer David Woods, who has followed the coaching trail of Stevens. “Not only does he love to win, but he likes the whole process of preparing a team to win.”
And it all started on a neighborhood court in Zionsville.
Questions and Answers from Brad Stevens
Q — Do you still have your high school letter jacket?
A – If I do, it is IN a box. I haven’t worn it since high school.
Q – When was the first time you dunked?
A – When we got the adjustable goal for my son. I can dunk if I lower it to eight feet.
Q – Do you prefer a one-class Indiana state tournament or the four-class state tournament.
A – I prefer the one class tournament, but I am not adamant about one class. I understand the value in having eight teams playing for a state championship.
Q – What is your favorite food at the Friendly Tavern?
A – The tenderloin.
Q – Who was your favorite, Mary Ann or Ginger?
A – I never watched it.
Five Points to Remember about Brad Stevens
One of his most prized possessions is a key to Hinkle Fieldhouse.
One of his favorite websites is kenpom.com that takes a statistical look at basketball.
The incoming Butler class of basketball recruits appears to be the best under Stevens. Among the recruits is Elijah Brown, a California player who is the son of former Los Angeles Laker Mike Brown.
Butler and Stevens are listed as finalists for two of the top 2014 Indiana high school prospects, Trey Lyles of Indianapolis Tech and Trevon Bluiett of Park Tudor.
Well-known national writer John Feinstein (Season on the Brink) says there is no evidence that Stevens iS leaving Butler and that he could be the Bulldog coach for 30 years.