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Brad Stevens ’99 comes home, reflects with a friend

bill fenlon and brad stevens
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Brad Stevens, president of basketball operations for the NBA’s Boston Celtics and 1999 graduate of DePauw University, says that as an undergraduate in Greencastle, “I learned how to learn.”  Back on campus for the Ubben Lecture Series, Stevens continued, “For me this was hard, the school was hard … you had to keep a certain GPA to keep your merit aid coming in, so I had to go and work and I had to learn that early on that it wasn’t good enough to read something once.”

The former head coach for the Celtics and Butler University developed techniques at DePauw that he continues to use in his work today. “I spent a lot of time reading, writing it down, re-reading, re-writing it down,” he told the audience in Kresge Auditorium. “That became my routine, and I don’t think I ever realized that I was building a habit there that I was going to use throughout my entire career. When I was coaching, I’d watch the game film, write down my notes, re-watch the cut-ups and then write down the succinct game plan.”

The lecture was a one-on-one conversation moderated by Bill Fenlon, who served as DePauw’s head men’s basketball coach for 30 seasons before retiring last summer. Stevens and his college coach shared laughs and memories as they reflected on the relationship that began in the Fall of 1995, when Stevens – a basketball standout at Zionsville High School, setting five team records – arrived at DePauw.

An economics major and Management Fellow, Stevens was a dean’s list honoree and volunteered as a civic intern at the Hartman Center. On the basketball court, he played in all possible 101 games for the Tigers and earned four varsity letters, was named all-conference, academic all-conference, and was a three-time Academic All-America nominee. He also met his wife, Tracy (Wilhelmy) Stevens ’99, at DePauw. She accompanied him on this visit.

After graduation, Brad worked as a marketing associate at Eli Lilly and Company. In 2000, he realized his real love was not in an office but on the hardwoods, and left his job for a volunteer coaching position at Butler. “Why not give it a try?,” Stevens, then 23, said he thought at the time. “I wanted so badly to be part of a team and wanted to have a scoreboard that started two hours ago and you figure out if you won or lost by the end of the night. I valued that and wanted to be a part of that.”

Soon after, he was named the Bulldogs’ coordinator of basketball operations, and a year later was tapped as an assistant basketball coach. In April 2007, he was named – at age 30 – to lead the Division I men’s basketball program. Stevens broke the NCAA record for most wins in a coach’s first three years and led Butler to two Final Four appearances in 2010 and 2011, becoming the youngest coach ever to lead teams to two Final Fours.

Stevens was named the head coach of the Boston Celtics in July 2013, becoming the youngest head coach in the NBA. Over eight seasons he led the storied franchise to a 354-282 record and seven playoff appearances, including a conference championship and five trips to the conference finals. On June 2, 2021, the Celtics named Stevens president of basketball operations.

Fenlon asked, “At what point did you decide you were going to be the president of the Boston Celtics?,” to which Stevens responded, “When you were screwing with my playing time.” Both men and the audience laughed.“This has been like a ridiculous, unreal, unscripted ride and It’s been because of the people I’ve been around,” Stevens stated. “To be quite candid, you’re only as good as all of those people and the guys that play on the team. And the players that I’ve gotten to coach, from my first day as a head coach with five seniors, to my last day as a head coach with (Jayson) Tatum and (Jaylen) Brown. I’ve been lucky to be around the right people and as a result I’m fortunate to be in this position.”

Stevens said, “The classroom is one thing, but there’s nothing like being on a team. You learn conflict resolution, team dynamics and how to be a great teammate. You learn you’re going to have to give of yourself and sometimes you’re unwilling to do that and you’ve got to learn to get through that, too. I think that all of that stuff is so valuable. I’ve heard people talk about what’s your style of leadership – what’s this, what’s that – leadership should be authentic, leadership should be who you are and leadership should be driven by doing what’s right for the people around you.”

In the afternoon prior to the lecture, Stevens spent an hour with the men’s and women’s basketball teams and praised the head coaches, who are longtime friends. “I love Rusty (Loyd) and he’ll do a great job here, and I’ve said I’m the biggest fan of Kris Huffman forever and ever and ever. They have special people leading those teams.”

In 2015, Brad Stevens received DePauw University’s Young Alumni Award. He is also a member of DePauw’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

Established in 1986 through the generous support of 1958 DePauw graduates Timothy H. and Sharon Williams Ubben, the Ubben Lecture Series was designed to “bring the world to Greencastle.” The series has presented 120 events over the past 37 years.

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