“I just call him ‘Brad,’ ” Bulldogs senior guard Shawn Vanzant said. “What you see is what you get with him.”
Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun, his counterpart in Monday’s national title game, is double Stevens’s age, eight times as jaded, crotchety, fiery and the only title game coach in NCAA history out on bail until he serves a three-game suspension next season for his program’s recruiting violations.
Breaking down the Final Four coaches earlier this week, Calhoun, appointing himself the patriarch, called Stevens “the perfect middle child.”
“I want him occasionally to at least cuss or just do something out of line,” he said Sunday afternoon.
Let the morality play in high tops commence. Let the untainted-vs.-unseemly narrative play out on the court Monday night at Reliant Center before what could be the largest title game crowd in NCAA annals. And let it begin with the coaches — the young, humble numbers freak from the mid-major program in the Heartland vs. the mumbling old-timer from just south of Boston, trying to hold on to what little power the big schools have left over the upstarts.
“I want to operate with as much integrity as I possibly can every single day,” Stevens said Sunday when asked about corruption in his sport. “I want our players to understand that when they move on. I’ve said before, the results don’t matter [more than] the process and the way you go about things.”
Unfazed by becoming the youngest modern-era Division I men’s basketball coach to take his team to two national championship games in a row, Stevens is unlike so many of his contemporaries, who need the next gig and next income level to validate their career ascent.
If Kentucky Coach John Calipari has been referred to as the next Jerry Tarkanian this week, it’s time for Stevens to be acknowledged as having the most in common with the greatest coach of all time, John Wooden, the pride of Martinsville, Ind., who believed that developing the person was the most important part of developing the player.
Stevens already is one of just nine coaches to reach back-to-back title games since Wooden won the last of his 10 championships at UCLA in 1975, a list that includes Dean Smith, Guy Lewis, John Thompson Jr., Mike Krzyzewski, Steve Fisher, Nolan Richardson, Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan — and Stevens is seven years younger than when Coach K and Donovan achieved the feat (both were 41).
“I know everybody wants him to have a dark side, but he doesn’t have one,” said his wife, Tracy. She spoke from the couple’s hotel room Sunday night as she distributed chicken nuggets to their son, Brady, 5, and daughter, Kinsley, 2. “I will tell you this: He’s an incredibly competitive guy. Golf. Board games. We must play Scrabble five nights a week. And he really gets into it.”