Stevens enjoying watching tournament

WALTHAM, Mass -- Celtics coach Brad Stevens is no longer directly involved in March Madness, but that didn’t stop the former Butler head coach from enjoying the first weekend of this year’s NCAA tournament from a new vantage point.

“I did a pretty good job turning on my fandom, watching games,” Stevens explained. “And again, it kind of goes back to who you know and all of those things. I’m happy for a lot of these guys that I worked with and a couple people I was with USA basketball that are continuing to advance and move on. It’s fun for them. I’m happy for them.”

A convenient four-day break in the Celtics schedule resulted in off days for the team on Saturday and Sunday. That respite gave Stevens the opportunity to take in a healthy slate of tournament games both days.

He wasn’t watching the action just as a fan, however. With the Celtics holding two first-round picks in the 2014 NBA draft, Stevens kept a watchful eye out for prospects.

“I think you’re always watching everybody, and you make your own assessments based on them,” Stevens said of watching NBA prospects. “But I’m not in those meetings yet, and we’ll talk about those after the season and once people decide whether they’re coming out or not and all of those things. There are a lot of great performances by individuals and teams, and that’s kind of what makes the tournament special. It’s really a neat showcase for both the teams and the individuals.”

Stevens has a bit of a leg up on other coaches around the league when evaluating college players since he spent several years recruiting and coaching against some of today’s top college prospects while at Butler.

“It’s probably one of the things that I’ve got going for me a little bit is that I know a lot of these guys,” Stevens acknowledged. “Watching them play for a long time, both in high school and now obviously, wherever they ended up in college.”

The player showcase continues on Thursday with the start of the Sweet 16 matchups.

Babb proud of Iowa State’s run: Several members of the Celtics weren’t exactly in talkative moods on Monday after seeing their alma maters eliminated in the first couple of rounds of the NCAA tournament. Rookie Chris Babb was not among them though, as he watched several of his former teammates on Iowa State advance to the Sweet 16 Sunday afternoon after defeating North Carolina in a thrilling contest.

“I was pretty sure they were going to pull it out,” Babb said. “That team plays with a lot of confidence. They play behind [DeAndre] Kane and [Melvin] Ejim, their two go-getters. Naz Long plays very confident. He wants to take the big shots. I was hoping they were going to pull it out.”

The win gave Iowa State its first Sweet 16 berth since 2000. Babb looked at that accomplishment with some pride, knowing he played a big role in the program’s turnaround after transferring to the school and playing the last two seasons of his college career under coach Fred Hoiberg.

“It’s awesome. I love it,” Babb said. “I’ve known that [Hoiberg] was going to continue to get that program going. ... I was the first transfer that [Hoiberg] signed [as Iowa State’s head coach]. I feel like myself, along with the other guys who kind of got it going his second year. First year I sat out, but second year we kind of got that thing rolling, got us to the tournament and they haven’t looked back.”

A rare practice: Monday marked the first time in nearly three weeks that the Celtics had an opportunity to practice. A jam-packed schedule during the month of March forced Boston to play 10 games in just 17 days up until the team’s loss against Brooklyn on Friday night. Despite a lack of preparation time for those contests, Stevens is pleased with the focus he has seen from the team as the season winds down.

“I think the last time we practiced was early this month, which obviously that’s not ideal,” Stevens said. “We’ve done a lot of good filmwork. I think we’ve got a lot of good 15-20 minute film meetings on the road where we’ve been able to do filmwork and then walkthroughs in the hotel. Certainly shootarounds, you almost have to treat those like practices right now.”

With a mere two games on the schedule this week, Boston will practice again on Tuesday in Waltham before hosting the Raptors Wednesday night.