ORLANDO — Brad Stevens walked into Amway Arena around 10 a.m. ET for the start of the NBA's summer league and immediately looked lost.
"Where's the court, Jeff?" he asked Jeff Twiss, the Boston Celtics' media relations coordinator.
"Right up here, around this corner," Twiss responded.
"This is all new to me," he said.
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It's been a whirlwind couple of days for Stevens, from his introduction Friday as the Celtics' 17th all-time coach, to his quick appearance at a parade in Connersville, Ind., Saturday and now, down here, to watch his summer-league team play.
Finally, the 36-year-old can concentrate on the thing he loves most, besides his family: basketball. Evaluating players. Watching tapes. Assembling a coaching staff. Getting up to speed on what it's going to take to make the jump from the college game to the pros.
Here, though, is the thing most people don't know, and wouldn't expect: This almost didn't happen.
It's not as though Celtics general manager Danny Ainge called roughly two weeks ago, and Stevens blurted out, "Yes! When do I start!?"
Stevens, an analytical guy, thought long and hard — really hard — before he made this massive move. It had nothing to do with the Celtics showing interest; he's fielded inquiries before, from both NBA and college programs. It had everything to do with Butler.
"There were no reservations with Boston," he said. "The reservations were about leaving Butler and leaving Indianapolis. And that's because of the relationships we've had, because of the players and everybody else. That conversation (with athletics director and former Butler coach Barry Collier) was the hardest conversation I've had my entire life."
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On the surface, this looked like a no-brainer. It was anything but.
"It was not easy (getting Stevens to agree to come to Boston)," Celtics President Danny Ainge said Sunday before his team's first summer league game. "I think he was flattered by our interest, but I think it was a really, really hard decision for him and (wife) Tracy to make.
"We talked a lot over a 10-day period. He was yes, no, yes, no — really fighting it. He really loves Butler, really feels like it's his family, but his dream of coaching in the NBA and coaching the Celtics was very enticing. Honestly, I had no idea he was going to come to Boston until right up until the last day (July 3), when we flew in and met with him and his wife. Right up until that last day, I don't think he'd made a decision, but after talking to ownership and management, I feel like he became very comfortable and made his decision."
It didn't get any easier later Wednesday when Stevens met with most of the team. "I've cried three times in the last 10 years," he said. "All three times were that day.
"The hardest part was not only looking at all those players in the room, but looking at the pictures on the wall. But here's what makes me feel good is that train's going to run smoothly and Brandon (Miller) is going to do a great job. I'm overjoyed about his hiring. What I told them is, whenever a coach has left Butler, players have always banded together and things have taken off. Look at the coaching changes we've had, and you'll see that no players transferred out. Butler will be just fine."
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Brad Stevens won a Division I-record 166 games in his first years at Butler. He lost only 49 games in six seasons. Mark Zerof, USA TODAY Sports Fullscreen
You know what was amazing about the whole Stevens-to-Boston story? Nobody had it. Not even a sniff of it. In this Internet world where planes are tracked by news reporters seeking information on coaching candidates, there wasn't even the faintest whiff of a rumor about Stevens going to Boston.
Which, in the end, was the way Stevens wanted it. A stealth hiring.
"There was a very small group of people who knew," Ainge said. "I know how important it was to him, and I knew if it got out it could jeopardize everything. Brad wanted to do it the right way. He wanted to tell Barry Collier and his players himself, so it was a pretty sensitive thing."
Now, Stevens takes on a challenge that's overwhelmed other college coaches who've tried to make the jump to the NBA. Rick Pitino struggled. John Calipari struggled. Ainge knows the history but doesn't believe history is going to repeat itself, especially not with the Celtics having given Stevens six years of job security.
Why have others failed?
"A few things," Ainge said. "Most coaching openings — except for Jason Kidd's new gig (in Brooklyn) — are with teams that are not having success. The second thing is, organizations in pro sports are impatient. Fans, radio talk shows, we live in a world of here and now. Third, some of the really good (college) coaches come in with expectations that are so high, and there's pressure on them to be superheroes.
"In this situation with Brad, we feel we have fair and realistic expectations and we will manage those expectations. We've done it before with Doc (Rivers). We're not sitting over his shoulder questioning everything he's doing. We know he's going to make mistakes when he first comes to the NBA, but we know two things: He'll get better and better and better, and he'll learn the NBA game and he'll be able to lead. He's a terrific communicator."
The Celtics are re-building, but they have nine first-round draft choices in the next five years. They will have a young team and a young coach who can grow together.
Stevens will bring the Butler mentality with him.
"The whole concept is based on organizational values and a culture of competing but also growing and getting better every day," Stevens said. "And that can translate to any organization. That's one of the things that draw you to this orgnization because the phrase I hear all the time is 'Celtic Pride' and 'Team First.' There are lots of shared values."
I asked him if he'll miss the ability to grow young people the way he did at the college level. He had an interesting answer.
"A long time ago, well before this opportunity ever came along, I talked to Tony Dungy about that — because that's something I really value," he said. "He said you can have a great impact on people no matter what organization you're a part of if you treat them right and really invest in them. He said it's not necessarily what level you're coaching, but what you do when you're there."
As he spoke, I couldn't help but look at that Celtics polo shirt. It just looks odd, like Peyton Manning in Broncos' orange-and-blue.
"It feels weird wearing anything but Butler gear," he said, smiling. "My whole closet is blue-and-white Nike Butler polos."
Soon enough, though, he'll look comfortable and be comfortable on the Celtics sideline. The next few months will be about studying and preparing and building a coaching staff, with a couple of days set aside to find a house in the Boston area.
The local kid has made good. Very good.