Brad Stevens as Kentucky coach? I hope not.
Now that Brad Stevens is onto the Boston Celtics, and let’s be honest, that is not going to end well, college basketball fans are already trying to guess where Stevens will end up once he gets back to the college game. And certainly, there is a faction of Kentucky fans who wouldn’t mind seeing Stevens on the Lexington campus whenever Cal decides to leave, after 25 more years, and 12 more national titles. But when that happens, would Brad Stevens be a good choice to come to Kentucky? I would argue HELL to the NO.
And the reason is simple: Brad Stevens is Tubby Smith.
Now, I have always leaned into the Tubby Smith Fan Camp. I think his name should be in the rafters simply because he won a national title and ran a clean program. But, I’m also not such a homer to not admit Tubby had a lot of flaws too. He had too many 10-loss seasons, didn’t seem to always use his stars to their best ability, and his style of play was often quite difficult to watch. Plus, his recruiting was questionable many years, especially at a program like Kentucky.
But, how is Stevens any different? Let’s look at a couple things:
1. Brad Stevens coached 6 years at Butler. Tubby Smith coach a total of 6 years at Tulsa and Georgia before coming to UK.
2. Brad Stevens had 2 players drafted into the NBA during his 6 seasons at Butler: Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack. Tubby Smith had 3 players drafted into the NBA during his 6 seasons at Tulsa and Georgia. And the 2 players drafted from UGA were not recruited by Tubby.
3. Tubby Smith’s last Georgia team averaged 72 points per game. Brad Stevens’ last Butler team averaged 69 points per game. For comparison’s sake, that really mediocre UK team from last season averaged 72 points per game. And we remember how bad that looked, right?
4. Tubby Smith lost 27 games in his final 3 years before coming to Kentucky. Brad Stevens lost 34 games in his final 3 years at Butler. John Calipari has lost 26 games total in 4 years at Kentucky.
These 4 points highlight different things, all of which I think are important. First, both guys are still relatively young in terms of college basketball head coaching experience. John Calipari had 17 years head coaching experience before coming to Kentucky. Why not go after a guy with more experience? And please don’t argue NBA coaching experience matters, because coaching at those 2 levels has very little in common except 5 players take the court at the start of the game.
Second, neither guy recruited high level, 5-star talent before coming to Kentucky. Tubby recruited some of that talent when he made it to Lexington, but never to the extent that fans clamored for. And when Tubby did get the 5-star talents like Joe Crawford, Rajon Rondo, and Randolph Morris, he didn’t have a good grasp how to coach them. I would imagine that Stevens would recruit more for the system he installs rather than the actual total talent of the player.
Third, do you really want to watch Brad Stevens grind out games into the 50’s? Fans could not stand the way Tubby Smith’s teams played, especially in the last 2 years. It was dribble, dribble, dribble, shot clock goes under 10, pick and roll, hope something happens. It doesn’t mean that style of play can’t win 20 or 25 games a year. It can. Tubby proved that. But it will NEVER draw it top level talent, and will require just the right players to make Final Fours. Stevens would do much of the same. His offense revolves a little more around the 3-point shot, but defense is the specialty.
Lastly, don’t be completely fooled by Stevens’ 2 runs to the championship games. He loses a lot too. 34 games in his last 3 years. In the Horizon and Atlantic 10 Leagues. Yes, with the draw falling just right, can a Steven’s UK team make a Final Four? Absolutely. But Brad Stevens will never put a team on the floor that has more talent than every team it plays. And that makes me nervous. Brad Stevens needed buzzer-beaters in Rounds 1 and 2 in the 2011 NCAA Tournament to even make the Sweet 16. That’s luck, not skill.
Brad Stevens is a long shot to succeed in Boston. Even if Rajon Rondo hangs around, they are rebuilding in a big way right now. And I don’t see Stevens being the guy who motivates a group of mediocre millionaires to NBA success. I give him 3 years in Boston. And then it’s back to college. Hopefully the UK job won’t be open then. But if by some chance it is, count me as one who wouldn’t like to see Stevens in Lexington. That is unless you want Tubby Smith back as coach.