Last April, barely a year removed from winning his fourth national championship, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski kept a crowd of 3,000 engaged and entertained at Lipscomb’s third annual Don Meyer Evening of Excellence.
One year later, the head coach who was on the losing end of that 2010 national title game — Butler’s Brad Stevens — will attempt to follow Krzyzewski.
“I’m never in front of him. I’m always a couple steps behind,” Stevens joked over the phone on Thursday. “He wrote a book called the ‘Gold Standard.’ He is the gold standard in coaching.”
Krzyzewski may have set the bar, but in just five years, Stevens has become one of the best young head coaches in college basketball.
On Saturday night at Allen Arena, he’ll also be the latest big-name guest speaker Lipscomb has landed for its athletic fundraiser. Tim Tebow spoke in 2010, one year after Meyer, the former Lipscomb coach christened the event. A public affair in the past, this year it is a private athletics department dinner.
The 67-year-old Meyer is expected to attend. Nearly four years ago he was in a car accident that led to the amputation of his left leg below his knee and to the discovery of terminal cancer. He retired from coaching two years ago — he spent his final 11 seasons at Northern State (S.D.) — as the all-time winningest men’s college basketball coach with 923 wins.
“He is just a guy that everybody that is in coaching idolizes and thinks the world of,” Stevens said. “He was the star among coaches long before the accident. Everybody in coaching knew of him and admired him long before he went through all the things he went through. The way he handled all of those things and the inspiration he provided to people all over the world just enhanced that.
“I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to speak there. I can’t think more highly of a coach than I do him.”
Stevens, 35, has compiled a 139-40 record in five seasons, including back-to-back trips to the national championship game in 2010-11. His coaching services have been in high demand the last three offseasons but he reportedly has turned down numerous offers, most recently rejecting Illinois.
Two years ago, he signed a 12-year contract extension that runs through the 2021-22 season.
“Great fit. Great fit,” Stevens said. “I love Butler University and I love Indianapolis but it is a lot more about the people than the place. That is always the case. You find yourself working with people you enjoy working with who have a vision about them that you feel empowered to come to work with every day. I’m not saying there aren’t other places that are like that or have that but we have it here. I feel really blessed to be a part of that.”
Stevens said he’ll keep his message on Saturday simple and share his philosophies and divulge lessons he’s learned in his short time as a coach. He started at Butler in 2000 as a volunteer assistant.
The Indiana native played at Division III DePauw University before graduating in 1999. He worked as a marketing associate for a pharmaceutical company for one year before the itch to coach was too much to shake.
“I really enjoy the preparation. I really enjoy getting on the court and everything else,” Stevens said, “but it is all for naught if your guys don’t have a great experience and don’t grow from that experience.
"I think that is what you learn from people like Coach Meyer and others who have done this for a long time that aren’t concerned about necessarily the wins and losses, the championships. They certainly strive for it and everything they do is geared toward putting yourself in position to have a chance to do that. But we all take a lot more pride in what our guys in the program — and that went through the program — are doing now.”