WALTHAM, Mass. -- One day after former Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino praised Brad Stevens and cited his patience with the team's current rebuilding process, Stevens volleyed the admiration but playfully questioned the suggestion that he's forbearing.
"I don’t think patient would be the first word that anybody that knows me would describe me as," quipped Stevens, who acknowledged Thursday that his true emotions are often shielded by a stoic outward appearance. "But I think that’s anybody in competitive sports; I’m not unique in that regards."
Pitino showered Stevens with kind words after leading Louisville to an 81-72 win over Boston College in his first time coaching back in Boston since resigning as coach of the Celtics in 2001.
Stevens was flattered by Pitino's comments.
"I heard what he said, and it was really nice," Stevens said. "I think he’s a really good coach. I had a chance to coach against him twice and so I feel like he knows the game. He’s been through so much, both in the NBA and in the college game, so I really appreciated his perspective on things.
"When I first decided to come [to the NBA], I knew that there was going to be a building process; we talked about that. You can’t project a timeline and that’s the toughest [part]. But there are days like Thursday and Friday, back-to-back, that you sneak out those 1-point games and you just hope that, again, maybe that spearheads something. Maybe that gets you going in a good direction. That’s something that you can point to with young guys and maybe continue to grind, fight, and do tough things. I don’t know how patient anybody is in this business. But I do enjoy watching progress being made. I think that the focus, for me, has to be on continuing to coach this team as well as I possibly can every day and continue to coach the individuals as well as we can as a staff everyday. It is hard to keep that in mind when things don’t go your way. But you’ve got to do it."
Pitino's failure at the pro level was often cited when Stevens elected to take over the Celtics after a successful tenure at Butler University. The Celtics are 41-85 in Stevens' 1 ½ seasons at the helm, but that's come amid constant roster changes as the team maneuvers with hopes of accelerating through the rebuilding process.
Stevens let down his guard a bit Thursday while acknowledging the frustrations that come with losing. A reporter noted how he rarely displays those raw emotions in front of the media.
"We only spend 15 minutes per day together; there’s a lot of day left," Stevens said with a smile. "I think what you do is you try to do your work as well as you can and then go from there. You put in everything you can to try to make your team better, whether it’s coming off a loss or a win. I heard it was [John] Calipari who had it on his wall, maybe at Kentucky, where he just has, 'Coach your team.' That’s what I’m supposed to do. That’s what you’re hired to do. You’re not hired to just ride the wave of a good time. And you’re not hired to moan about what’s not going right. You’re hired to try to coach a team, and that’s what I try to do."
The Celtics went 3-3 on their recently concluded road trip, but Stevens wouldn't let himself get too high or too low, noting how Boston was a couple of missed late-game jumpers away from going 1-5 and lamenting how the team missed an opportunity to finish strong in falling to lowly Minnesota on Wednesday night.
But in discussing what he plucks from the trip, Stevens' words suggested the sort of patience that Pitino alluded to.
"It's hard to say what this means without knowing what the future holds from a standpoint of, where do we go from here? How do we play? Do we carry over some of the lessons that were valuable in the games that we won? Or do we carry over learning how to better close out a trip than we did last night? There’s so much of the unknown," said Stevens. "I think that we had our moments where we played well, we won two 1-point games that could have gone either way. If we’re sitting here at 1-5 because those last two shots bounce in, do we feel worse about ourselves? Absolutely. Is it a lot less of a successful trip? Absolutely. Because those bounces went our way, we feel better. But I try to keep it in perspective of, just looking at it subjectively, we have a lot to work on, but there was at least some progress made."
The sort of progress that helps Stevens stay patient.