Perhaps the only person on the Butler basketball team that emerged unscathed from Monday’s 53-41 loss to UConn was coach Brad Stevens.
Stevens, one of the few coaches who’ve ever taken his team to back-to-back NCAA tournament title games, watched as his Bulldogs missed 52 of 64 field-goal attempts and set a championship record for lowest field-goal percentage (18.8).
But his team earned the respect of UConn coach Jim Calhoun, whose team also had a miserable shooting night, hitting less than 35 percent of its shots.
“Butler really plays defense,” Calhoun said. “I mean, they really play defense. And we really play defense, and I think eventually our quickness and length got to them, but from a purist standpoint, if you really like defense, take a clip of this game.”
Watching Butler shoot Monday may have been tough, but one had to agree with Calhoun. There wasn’t anything missing in the Bulldogs’ effort. And if it’s possible to lose a game like that with dignity, Butler did it. From Dan Wetzel’s column at Yahoo! Sports:
They talk a lot about the “Butler Way” around here, although no one has a specific definition of it. Mostly it’s about being selfless, not caring who gets the points or the headlines or the accolades. Here on the night of a bitter, bitter defeat, Brad Stevens was reminded it can mean a whole lot more than that.
“You know if someone has to go 12 of 64 and lose that game and do it that way,” he said, “these guys have the character to handle that.”
That’s a reflection of Stevens and his calm, pleasant demeanor. Perhaps he can’t pull off the impossible – Butler’s been this close to ascending to the top of college hoops the last two years – but there’s still the sense that his teams could do it in the future. From Matt Norlander’s column at CBSSports.com:
And, of course, Stevens is still as great a coach right now as he was Monday afternoon. Don’t let a bad — historically, epically, inexplicably bad — shooting performance alter your vision of what Butler’s about and who Stevens is. He’s still among the youngest coaches to coach in a Final Four; he’s still the most coveted name in college basketball. Any job that opens, he’s still the top candidate.
And just how good will he be? Here’s where we’re entering hyperbole territory. Stevens’ last two NCAA tournaments – he’s a combined 10-2 – raise the possibility among some caches that he may end his career where only one person’s gone before.
Kyle Whelliston from The Mid-Majority caught up with George Mason coach Jim Larranaga at the Final Four, and Larranaga’s assessment couldn’t have been more impressive.
“Brad Stevens.” He drew the words out slowly and reverently, his eyes squinting a bit. “Let me tell you something, Kyle. Brad Stevens is nothing less than the next John Wooden. Think about it. Smart young coach from Indiana, took a small local college all the way to the championship game. Then Coach Wooden got a thirst to test himself at a higher level. At some point, Coach Stevens is going to have that same urge. But he’s never going to leave for the sake of leaving. He’s only going to leave if it’s the absolute right situation. He’s guided not by a hunger for money, but by strong bedrock principles that he lives his life by.”
Wow. Now there’s high praise. Nothing like setting the bar impossibly high for a coach.
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