- Associated Press - Monday, March 21, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - At age 34, Brad Stevens has already coached in a national championship game, won four straight regular-season league titles, beaten Bob Knight and reached the NCAA tournament’s regional round in back-to-back years.

Most coaches would call that a pretty good career. People at Butler think it’s just the start.

“I remember him speaking one time at an event because the head coach couldn’t be there, and I remember telling his mom he’s going to make it big one day,” Butler women’s basketball coach Beth Couture said Monday. “He just had that aura about him.”

Stevens still has it, which helps explain why the Bulldogs are in position to reach the Final Four again.

They’ve already beaten Old Dominion on a buzzer-beating tip-in from Matt Howard and upset top-seeded Pittsburgh in one of the wackiest finishes in tourney history. Two more wins and Butler (25-9) can book that improbable ticket to Houston.

How has Stevens done all this with a program that’s not supposed to be competing with college basketball’s big boys?

His players say it’s his style.

“I can say there’s not too many coaches in the world who you can make jokes to or make jokes about or have shooting contests with,” guard Shelvin Mack said. “That helps you out later.”

Couture remembers Stevens taking time during last year’s Final Four week, the biggest of his career and one taking place near Butler’s campus, to ask her, a breast cancer survivor, to be his guest at the Coaches vs. Cancer dinner.

Players believe Stevens‘ cool demeanor inspires the confidence they need to excel in late-game situations _ like the two last week _ and school officials often cite their appreciation for the way Stevens represents the school in public.

Yet this baby-faced coach is mature enough to do all of those things and still not allow anything _ winning, losing, speculation about his next job _ to become a distraction to the rest of the team.

That’s why, four years ago, athletic director Barry Collier turned over one of the nation’s top mid-major programs to an untested 30-year-old.

“He’s got a high level of character, a high level of intelligence, a high motor and his energy is great,” said Collier, the former Butler coach who started the program’s revival in 1989. “But he is an incredibly good communicator, and that might be the most important thing.”

Stevens‘ players understand what Collier is talking about.

The day after accepting the Butler job, a sleepless Stevens jumped in his car, drove 50 miles to New Castle, Ind., and met with recruit Zach Hahn and his family. Then, it was off to Connersville, Ind., for a meeting with Howard and his family. In between, he made phone calls to out-of-state recruits like Shawn Vanzant, the team’s starting point guard.

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