Butler’s Brad Stevens continues coaching emergence

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - With his Butler Bulldogs mired in a funk earlier this season, 34-year-old Brad Stevens picked up his phone and called Florida’s Billy Donovan.

If the nation’s top young coach needed advice, it makes sense he’d seek it from another coach who not long ago carried the same label.

“He just shared insights, shared thoughts,” Stevens said. “You’re just two coaches on the phone talking for 30 or 45 minutes just sharing stories and sharing ideas.

“You’re just looking for anything at that moment in time to flip a switch.”

From Donovan’s perspective, that advice might have been a little too good.

Now on a 12-game winning streak dating to Feb. 5, eighth-seeded Butler (26-9) will face second-seeded Florida (29-7) on Saturday in the NCAA Southeast Regional final.

On Friday, Stevens and Donovan both spoke of the respect they’ve developed for each other’s programs since meeting for the first time in 2007 at a Florida coaching clinic.

Stevens said he called Donovan because the coach had a unique perspective of coming off a Final Four season and dealing with heightened expectations.

The 45-year-old Donovan has a more accomplished resume with three Final Four appearances, two national championships and more than a decade of sustained success at a program that wasn’t considered a national powerhouse before his arrival in 1996.

But Stevens is gaining ground quickly. He led the Bulldogs to a shocking NCAA tournament run last season, advancing to the national championship game before a narrow loss to Duke. Now Butler is just one victory away from a second consecutive Final Four _ an accomplishment unheard of for a so-called mid-major program.

To Donovan, Stevens isn’t a great young coach. He’s simply a great coach _ period.

“I think a lot of times people can label somebody based on their age, and I don’t think that’s fair to Brad,” Donovan said.

For Donovan and Stevens, the similarity in style is striking. They’re usually calm on the sideline, with an understated approach that players say helps in tense situations. Both were guards in college, and are known for recruiting smart players who play well together and don’t have huge egos.

“Sometimes we’ll be in the huddle during a tight game and look up at coach Stevens and he’s just so calm,” senior Zach Hahn said. “You wonder ‘How’s he doing that?’ But it definitely has an effect on everyone else. We don’t get rattled easily.”

Most importantly, both coaches are winners.

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