Boston Celtics

Butler v Marquette

Brad Stevens supports Butler and Chris Holtmann, sympathizes with Brandon Miller

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Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics are in Indianapolis for a Friday night matchup with the Indiana Pacers.

The former Butler head coach returned to the school he brought to back-to-back Final Fours earlier in the day, according to the Indy Star. Stevens was attending a retirement ceremony for Butler’s longtime sports information director Jim McGrath.

Since Stevens’ jump to the NBA in July 2013, the program has entered the Big East Conference, and is currently on its second different head coach. Former Butler guard Brandon Miller was tabbed as Stevens’ successor, serving as head coach for one season. He took a leave of absence on October 2, leaving his duties to assistant coach Chris Holtmann.

After guiding the Bulldogs to an 11-4 start, which included a win over then-No. 5 North Carolina, Holtmann had his interim tag removed and agreed to a multi-year contract with the university. In his first game as the permanent head coach, Butler knocked off No. 15 St. John’s on the road.

On Friday, Stevens discussed the state of the program with Curt Cavin of the Indy Star. The Celtics coach remains a follower, even from afar.

“First and foremost, my heart and my sympathies are with Brandon and his family,” Stevens told Cavin. “I’m very excited that they had a person like Chris there (on staff) and the staff that was there with (assistant coaches) Michael Lewis and Terry Johnson. Those guys who were there with me really handled a tough situation fantastic, and I’m really happy that’s going to be a long-term thing now with Chris at the helm.

“I thought all those guys did just a marvelous job. I’m happy for them and you can bet I want them to beat ‘X’ (Xavier) tomorrow.”

This may have been a homecoming of sorts for Stevens, but he has been a topic of discussion a month ago, when he had to shoot down speculation that he could take over at Indiana, given the extended rebuilding process going on in Boston following the Rajon Rondo trade.

Stevens is in the second year of a six-year deal with Boston. Tom Crean, in his seventh season in Bloomington, has the Hoosiers 11-4 on the season.

Brad Stevens on Indiana speculation: ‘I’m the head coach of the Boston Celtics. This is the job.’

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There’s no escaping it.

Brad Stevens is going to be continually linked to the Indiana head coaching job. The last rumblings of Stevens’ potential return to the college ranks surfaced in Paul Flannery’s Sunday Shootaround column for SB Nation.

The latest speculation is a product of Boston’s blockbuster trade with the Dallas Mavericks early this week, sending All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo to the Mavs for Jameer Nelson, Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder and draft picks. The trade makes the rebuilding process an even longer one. The Celtics sport one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, and the growing pains are obvious with fourth quarter collapse after fourth quarter collapse this season.

However, an even longer rebuilding effort in the post-Rondo era isn’t enough to lure Stevens back to college coaching.

“I’ve committed to being here,” Stevens told Flannery before Thursday’s practice. “I’ve already left a situation once and that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to choose to do. This is something that as long as they want me to be here, this is what I want to be doing and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. I know it’s all specific to the rumor mills and the discussion of one spot. I think they’ve got a good coach who’s done a helluva job. He doesn’t deserve that speculation.

“I’m the head coach of the Boston Celtics. This is the job. This is where I am. This is what I want to do really well and I’m committed to being as good as I can every single day for the Celtics.”

The Celtics faith in Stevens was evident when they offered him a six-year contract in the summer of 2013. And from the quotes provided by Gregg Popvich and Kevin Love, Stevens is widely-respected by both future Hall of Famers and perennial NBA All-Stars.

Tom Crean is in his seventh season, although, the Hoosier faith have turned sour on him. Indiana has made only two NCAA tournament appearances, being bounced in the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed in 2013. The Hoosiers missed the postseason a season ago. The boiling point was this fall, when off-the-court issues, mixed with low expectations entering this year had many in the state calling for his job.

Through 11 games, Indiana is 9-2, fresh off a neutral site win over No. 23 Butler in the Crossroads Classic. While Indiana’s NCAA tournament status is still uncertain, Stevens sounds confident that his only return to the Hoosier state will be when the Celtics travel to Indianapolis to play the Pacers.

Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens visits former Butler forward Andrew Smith

Brad Stevens
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In one of the more surprising moves of the summer, Brad Stevens left his post at Butler University to take the Boston Celtics coaching vacancy.

Andrew Smith played four years for Stevens, helping the Bulldogs appear in the NCAA tournament three times, averaging averaged 8.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in his career.

On Friday, it was announced that the former Butler forward was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, discovered while he was playing overseas with BC Neptunas in Lithuania.

Stevens, in the middle of a 19-34 season with the Celtics, took time to travel to Zionsville, Ind. to visit Smith and his wife Samantha. According to Zak Keefer, this isn’t the first time Stevens has taken time to visit former players.

It’s one thing to send well wishes, but it’s another to take time out of a busy schedule, from a demanding job. “Once a Butler Bulldog, always a Bulldog,” as tweeted by Samantha Smith pretty much sums up Stevens and his connection to the university.

[h/t Indianapolis Star]

Assigned Reading: An inside look at Brad Stevens’ decision to leave Butler

Butler v Marquette
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One of the moments this offseason that startled the college basketball world was Brad Stevens’ decision on July 3 to leave Butler for the Boston Celtics, taking over for Doc Rivers as the leader of one of sports’ most storied franchises. But for all the attention that head coaching moves garner, rarely do we get to take an inside look at the decision-making process and the resulting emotions.

Zack Keefer of the Indianapolis Star put together a five-part story on that July day, giving readers a look into all aspect of the move. Viewpoints of the assistants who suddenly found themselves being interviewed for the open position, the players who would find out that the man they committed to play for would no longer be coaching them and athletic director Barry Collier are among the angles provided by Keefer.

So as Stevens sat in his office, telling him he’d accepted the Celtics offer, Collier knew the cold reality: A counteroffer did not exist.

Instead of raises or incentives or a new contract, they reminisced. To Stevens’ right hung a framed photo from the 2010 national championship game in Indianapolis, a memento of the unforgettable rise they shared. Before long, both were in tears.

“I had never seen Brad like that,” Collier says. “It was very, very emotional for both of us. And still is.”

The link to the series can be found here.

Markel Starks, Otto Porter lead Georgetown past No. 11 UCLA

Markel Starks, John Thompson III
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BROOKLYN – This game was supposed to be about Shabazz Muhammad and UCLA. With the nation’s most talented freshman finally getting declared eligible by the NCAA this past Friday, Monday night’s game against Georgetown in the semifinals of the Legends Classic was supposed to be his debutante ball.

We’ve all seen the mixtapes. We’ve all watched the youtube highlights. Monday was supposed to be the real thing.

And then Georgetown showed up. If this was UCLA’s debutante ball, than Georgetown was the girl that took home the Bruin’s date.

The Hoyas got a career-high 23 points from Markel Starks in a 78-70 win over the No. 11 Bruins, moving to 3-0 on the season. Starks may have led the team in scoring, but Otto Porter was the star in his first full game of the season. He finished with 18 points, 11 boards, five blocks, five assists and three steals.

“Otto’s first full game, if you look at the stat sheet, is a full game,” Thompson said, “and there is a whole bunch of other stuff that he did that doesn’t show up on this stat sheet. We’re a better team with him on the court, so it was good to have him back out there.”

This was a long way from the best game that UCLA will put together this season, but that shouldn’t diminish just how impressive Georgetown was. The Hoyas used a 12-0 run to open the second half, sparked by a pair of threes from sophomore Greg Whittington and capped with a dunk in transition from Mikael Hopkins, and systematically picked apart the UCLA defense for the duration of the game. The Bruins were able to get within four on a couple of occasions, but Georgetown had an answer for every Bruin run.

The best player on the floor for Georgetown in this game was Starks, the Hoyas’ junior point guard in his second season as a starter. His stat line was impressive enough — 23 points on 9-14 shooting, 2-4 from beyond the arc, four steals, two assists — but it was his leadership and patience running the team that made the difference.

“Starks had a great game tonight,” Howland said. “He had 23, and that was as many points as he scored in the last six games last season. He’s made a big jump and that really hurt us.”

When you think of Georgetown, the first thing that comes to mind is their front court. John Thompson III has developed a reputation for producing versatile, play-making big men that he runs his offense through: Greg Monroe, Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert, Henry Sims. What people don’t realize, however, is that those same Hoya teams are at their best when they are stocked with veteran back court players, the Austin Freemans and Chris Wrights and Jonathon Wallaces of the world.

Starks is the next in line in that role, and if tonight was any indication, he may be ready for the limelight.

“We’ve had guys that go into the season as unknowns, and guys that when their opportunities come, they’re ready,” Thompson said after the game. “This is an unselfish group, and they trust each other. Tonight was a night where Markel got in a little rhythm, and his teammates did a good job of finding him.”

As good as Starks was, the difference in this game came with about seven minutes left in the first half. UCLA was on a 22-10 run over a ten minute stretch, erasing Georgetown’s 10-2 start, and on the verge of taking control of the game. That’s when JT III switched to a 2-3 zone, and completely changed the course of the game.

“When they went zone in the last seven minutes of the second half, we were tentative and didn’t get it inside,” Howland said. UCLA ended up down two at halftime, setting up Georgetown’s 12-0 spurt to start the second half.

Georgetown is not a traditionally ‘big’ team. Mikael Hopkins and Nate Lubick are a long way from Cody Zeller and Thomas Robinson. Where the Hoyas have size, however, is on the wings. They start Greg Whittington and Otto Porter, who are both 6-foot-8 with insanely long wingspans, at the two and the three. They have Stephen Domingo and Jabril Trawick, who are both 6-foot-5 and athletic, coming off the bench. When the Hoyas settle back into that zone, that length makes them tough to score on.

It’s tough to judge a team based off of a single performance, especially when that performance comes less than a week after the Hoyas struggled to beat Atlantic 10 bottom-feeder Duquesne at home.

But it’s also difficult to ignore this one simple fact: Georgetown just smacked a UCLA team that could have as many as four or five first round picks.

That’s quite a statement to make.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

The key to Ohio State’s season? Finding that third scorer

Thad Matta,  LaQuinton Ross, Evan Ravenel
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UNCASVILLE, Conn. – When Deshaun Thomas gets into rhythm, there aren’t many players in the country that can score like him. After averaging 15.9 points as a sophomore, Thomas entered Sunday afternoon’s matchup with Washington in the final of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off averaging 22.0 points early on this season. The 6-foot-7 lefty did nothing to dissuade that opinion on him, either, as he hit nine of his first ten shots from the floor, scoring 21 of his 31 points in the first half, adding eight boards and four assists.

Aaron Craft showed off a bit of a refined scoring touch as well. He finished with 18 points, giving Washington fits with his ability to run off of a pick-and-roll while playing his usual brand of lockdown defense and running Ohio State’s offense like the veteran all-american he is; Craft’s stat-line on Sunday was rounded out with four assists, two steals and just a single turnover.

Do the math, and those two combined for 49 points on 17-32 shooting from the floor and 12-13 from the line in No. 4 Ohio State’s 77-66 win over Washington.

The rest of the Buckeyes?

28 points. 10-25 from the floor. 8-13 from the line. That includes 12 points on 4-5 shooting from senior center Evan Ravenel, a performance OSU can’t exactly become reliant; ‘Rav’ averaged a career-high 3.4 points last season and entered Sunday’s game with a grand-total of two points this season.

But Ohio State is going to have to count on those ‘unexpected’ performances this year; regardless of where it comes from, the Buckeyes need a third source of points.

The first two games of the season, it was Lenzelle Smith. Much was expected of the junior guard heading into this season after he put together a couple of explosive scoring performances during the regular season and a very solid NCAA tournament. Smith was pegged as one of the players to see an increase in shot attempts with Jared Sullinger’s departure, and the 16.5 points he was averaging entering Sunday are evidence that line of thinking proved to be prophetic.

But Smith struggled with his shot on Sunday, finishing 0-5 from the field without scoring a single point.

“I thought Lenzelle played a heckuva basketball game,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said after the game, and that’s probably a fair, albeit slightly exaggerated, statement. He had three assists and a couple of steals, he didn’t turn the ball over, he helped keep Washington’s talented perimeter attack in check until the second half. But he didn’t score, and at the end of the day, the winner of a basketball is determined by who scores more points. “He’s been 18 or 15 for us, and he knows he has to do that.”

Matta knows, however, that there are going to be nights where Smith’s shot isn’t falling. And he also knows that Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross aren’t exactly ready to be major contributors for this team; and that Sam Thompson, for all that otherworldly athleticism, isn’t much more than an athlete at this point in his career; and that his big men are more adept at taking up space than they are at being even half of the low post threat that Jared Sullinger was.

Perhaps most importantly, however, Matta knows that his team doesn’t need those five to be much more than role players that can consistently do their jobs. But on nights like Sunday, when Smith’s shot isn’t dropping, someone needs to step up.

“[Ravenel] had to do what he did,” Matta said, while also driving home the point that the rest of his bench still performed. “I thought [Ross and Williams] were very effective. Sam Thompson, once he started playing harder and challenging shots, Amir and Q, it’s still relatively new to them. This was a very good test for them.”

“Very excited about the way we played. I told our guys we learned a lot about ourselves in this game.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.