Former Butler University basketball coach Brad Stevens says this season's Pacers team is the best he has even seen. He grew up in Zionsville watching and admiring Pacers stars like Reggie Miller, Dale and Antonio Davis, and Rik Smits. But he's even more Stevens has studied this season's team closely as he returns to Indianapolis tonight to face the Pacers as coach of the Boston Celtics.
"This one has a great swagger about it," said Stevens in a pregame interview at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. "It has great depth. It has what I would consider to be a top three or four player in the league in Paul George. It's a really well-oiled machine right now."
Stevens never gets too high or low on the sideline. But he admits returning to his hometown is exciting.
"I have a job to do," said Stevens in pregame interview, "which is unfortunate. I would have liked to come back and just relax. I spent the last 24 hours, or whenever we landed, just getting ready for today's game. The Pacers are fantastic. At the same time, when you open the window and look outside, there are a lot of emotions that get stirred."
Stevens brings his Celtics to Bankers Life Fieldhouse with a 12-16 record, but holding a share of the lead in the Atlantic Division.
"Our guys like basketball and they play hard," said Stevens. "That's what has kept us alive and given us a chance in certain games."
Stevens has already coached 28 games, almost a full season for a college team.
"This is obviously a challenge," said Stevens. "I knew it would be, because we're in a process of growth. The things that I enjoy seeing are the small steps and the small improvements. That's the positive of coaching."
Stevens stunned the basketball world when he left Butler on July 3rd to become head coach of one of the NBA's most storied basketball franchises. He had turned down many other offers in the past to leave Butler for higher-profile college coaching jobs.
Stevens coached the Bulldogs to 166 wins in six seasons at Butler, including back-to-back national championship game appearances in 2010 and 2011. He keeps a close eye on his former team and has watched most of the Butler games this season on TV.
"I told you guys this in July," said Stevens, "They're going to be a lot better off without me. They are rolling right now. There is nothing better than watching that. I'm really happy for those guys. Brandon (Miller) is doing a great job and has a great staff. It does your heart good to see them doing well."
Stevens' children went to Hinkle Fieldhouse Sunday afternoon to play with the children of the Butler coaching staff. The Celtics do not play again until December 28th, so Stevens and his family are staying in Indianapolis after tonight's game to spend a couple of days with family and friends.