NCAA coaches different, yet the same

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:46 PM ET

HOUSTON — The friendly, aw-shucks new kid on the block versus the gruff, tough old man.

That’s how Monday’s coaching matchup stacks up with 33-year-old Brad Stevens of Butler going against two-time NCAA champion Jim Calhoun of Connecticut, 68.

Stevens, with his boy-scout image — he couldn’t even think of anything bad he had done as a child when quizzed on Sunday, while Calhoun admitted to having “warts like all of you” — remarkably is back on this stage for the second year in a row, the youngest man to achieve the feat.

Calhoun is trying to become the fifth coach to win three or more NCAA championships.

Their outward appearance couldn’t be much different.

Does Stevens ever get mad, or swear?

“It’s very, very rare,” said Butler centre Matt Howard.

On the other hand, Calhoun projects an intimidating aura.

“I thought he was mean, you know, just from watching him over the years, growing up,” said Huskies star Kemba Walker on Sunday.

But appearances can be deceiving.

“When I met him, it was a whole different story, he’s the reason why I came to UConn,” added Walker. “He’s just like me. He’s a competitor. He has passion for the game. I couldn’t see myself playing for nobody else.”

With further prodding, Howard and Shelvin Mack admitted that Stevens does in fact, lose his temper and let his team have it every now and then.

Calhoun knows they are two very different men from different generations, but still sees similarities.

“I see the competitiveness that I have, it just shows up in different ways. How do I know he’s passionate? Because I watch his teams play. It comes out of my team the same way. The instrument directed may be a little different, but the passion is there. Dedication to the things they do,” Calhoun said, pointing specifically to Stevens’ attention for detail.

“What I really love about him is respect for the game. I see the same thing that I had. The thing that gets you here, we both believed that we could do something special in the game of basketball with our kids and take our kids on a journey. That’s the single most important thing.”

What both men also share is a bond with their players.

“I always felt like he was a tough coach, which he is,” said UConn guard Shabazz Napier, “but he just loves us to death. He wants us to do good.”

Added Stevens: “I really appreciated how he stood up for his guys no matter what. You can see that in the way his team plays.”

What does the future hold for both of them? Calhoun sees great things for Stevens.

“If he’s prototypical of what’s ahead in coaching, we’re in great shape, we’re in really good shape coaching-wise.”

And for himself?

“I told my wife I would retire when I was 50. I lied,” he joked. “(Legendary ex-North Carolina head coach) Dean Smith said: ‘Don’t ever make a decision on your basketball future right after a season, no matter how great it was, and don’t ever make it after a disappointing season. Give yourself some time, space, and distance and then make a decision.’

“I’ve done it every spring for probably the past seven years. The moment I lose my edge, I can guarantee you now I’ll say, that’s it.”

ryan.wolstat@sunmedia.ca


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