How Brad Stevens transformed from a college basketball assistant making $18,000 a year to one of the best coaches in the NBA

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Maddie Meyer/Getty

Over the course of five years, Brad Stevens has helped transform the Boston Celtics from a lottery team to a title contender.

Stevens’ rise, along with the Celtics, has been stunning. He began his career as a volunteer at Butler University, became an assistant coach, then head coach, and teams from around the world tried to poach with him million-dollar offers.

Stevens eventually took an offer from the Celtics. He has installed a motion offense and stingy defense that’s helped make them one of the best teams in the NBA.

The NBA world has taken notice, as a former college assistant is beating NBA coaches at a level nobody expected.

Here’s how Stevens has risen from an assistant making $18,000 a year collecting film to one of the best coaches in the pros.


Stevens was a high-school basketball star in Indiana, but received only one Division I offer after high school. He chose instead to play DIII basketball at DePauw University.

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DePauw University Video – Ken Owen/YouTube

Source: ESPN


Stevens was hardly a star in college. He averaged just five points per game his senior year and struggled to accept a role off the bench, playing behind underclassmen.

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DePauw University Video – Ken Owen/YouTube

Source: ESPN


When Stevens graduated, he had accepted a high-paying job at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly.

Source: New York Times


Stevens, however, was upset about leaving basketball. He coached a summer camp at Butler after graduating, then accepted an offer to become a volunteer assistant for the men’s basketball team in 2000.

Source: New York Times


Stevens took up a job at Applebee’s to make money while volunteering. But the day before training, he was promoted to director of basketball operations because an assistant coach was arrested for soliciting a prostitute (charges were later dropped).

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Stephen Dunn/Getty

Source: New York Times


Stevens made just $18,000 a year, spending about 14 hours a day logging footage of defensive tendencies. Stevens called it, “as enjoyable a year as I ever had.”

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thegoodsportonline/YouTube

Sources: ESPN and New York Times


In 2007, Stevens was promoted to head coach of Butler after previous head coach Todd Lickliter left to coach the University of Iowa. Butler went 30-4 in his first season as head coach.


During the 2009-10 season, Butler went 33-5 and made an impressive run to the NCAA Tournament to reach the championship game.


In the championship, they lost a classic to Duke, falling 61-59, as Gordon Hayward’s halfcourt heave missed at the buzzer.


The following season, Stevens and Butler went 28-10 and made another run through the NCAA Tournament. They eventually lost the championship game to Connecticut.

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Streeter Lecka/Getty

Stevens coached two more years at Butler, going a cumulative 49-26. Along the way, several schools tried to poach him, with UCLA most notably offering him as much as $3 million per year. Stevens reportedly made as much as $750,000 in 2010 with Butler.

Sources: LA Times, Indy Star


However, it was the Celtics that pulled Stevens away from Butler in the summer of 2013 with a six-year, $22 million offer.

Source: ESPN


After going 25-57 for the rebuilding Celtics in his first year, Stevens and the team hit a stride after trading for Isaiah Thomas in 2014.

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Maddie Meyer/Getty

In 2016-17, with Thomas leading the way, the Celtics finished 1st in the Eastern Conference with a 53-29 record. They eventually made the Eastern Conference Finals, even taking a game from the Cleveland Cavaliers, despite Thomas missing time with a hip injury. The Celtics’ success even without star players has often been credited to Stevens’ coaching.


Celtics Blog once dubbed Stevens an “ATO [After Timeout] Genius” for his clever inbounds plays. Indeed, Stevens has drawn up some brilliant plays that have gotten his players good shots.

Source: Celtics Blog


After coaching a team of underdogs, Stevens got a boost this year when the team signed Gordon Hayward in free agency and traded for Kyrie Irving.

Unfortunately for the Celtics, Hayward got injured in the first game of the season, leaving the team without their star forward.


That didn’t stop the Celtics, however. Behind Irving, Al Horford, second-year guard Jaylen Brown, and rookie forward Jayson Tatum, the Celtics still went 55-27, finishing second in the East.

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Tim Bradbury/Getty

Stevens has once again proven his worth in the playoffs. With Irving sidelined with a knee injury, Stevens has taken a group of underdogs to another level, helping them advance in the playoffs by knocking off the Milwaukee Bucks.

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Jason Miller/Getty

Stevens owns a 221-189 record in the regular season and 16-20 record in the playoffs. Both are impressive considering the rosters and injuries Stevens has had to work with.

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Jason Miller/Getty

The Celtics have one of the brightest futures in the league. They’re in the middle of a playoff run without their two star players, and Brown and Tatum are still so young. As the team develops and adds more talent, the Celtics could once again become perennial contenders with Stevens at the helm.

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Maddie Meyer/Getty

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