Stevens Dives Deep Into Life Without Basketball

BOSTON – Brad Stevens is used to making adjustments. As head coach of the Celtics, much of his job depends on doing so, as he’s always on his toes, prepared to alter his on-court plan of attack to set his team up for success.

Currently, Stevens is going through the most challenging adjustment period of his career. Though this time, it’s occurring away from the court.

Right now, he faces the task of coaching a basketball team when there is no basketball to be played. It’s one of the many dilemmas that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented over the last two months, and it’s one which Stevens shared details of Friday afternoon during a Zoom conference call with a few hundred Celtics Season Ticket Members.

“Like everyone else, you have a feeling of uncertainty just about when we're all going to be back and what the new normal will look like,” Stevens explained. “You have a feeling of uncertainty for what you watch on the news every day and all the people that are dealing with this head-on while we're sitting in our homes. Obviously (with the players) being off their feet, anytime that you can do that to an extent is a positive when you're talking about guys that put as much on their bodies as our guys do. But I think that the challenge that comes with it is maintaining the appropriate conditioning, the appropriate focus, the appropriate ability to pick right back up where we left off, through a really unsettling uncertain time.”

Neither Stevens nor his players have ever been through a time like this where basketball has been abruptly taken away from them. For most of their lives, it’s been the one constant that they’ve been able to count on.

So, during a time in which they can’t count on basketball being there, the Celtics players and coaches are counting on being there for each other. They have multiple teamwide video conference calls per week, they do virtual workouts in small groups, and they have private one-on-one conversations via text and Facetime. Through such constant communication, their chemistry remains stronger than ever despite the distance that they’re required to maintain.

Many of their conversations revolve around the topic of adjustment and how they are learning to adapt to their new lifestyles away from the court.

“As far as routine goes, one of the things we talk about all the time is that if you have a routine that's great,” Stevens said. “But you can't be like married to it because the bus could break down on the way to the arena, you could get stuck in traffic, you may be sick that day and you may feel better by game time. Like you have to be able to compartmentalize that this is the game, this is the task. We want to be as routine-oriented as we can, but it's just not always feasible. And so, this particular situation, as COVID-19 shut down more and more businesses and shut down our league, became more real to all of us, then it affected everyone's routine. It's not an athlete thing, it's not a coach thing, it's an everyone thing. And so everybody is dealing with that, and I think that as an athlete, the different curveballs that come out of left field that you get used to hitting I think are good preparation for times that are going to challenge you like this.”

There will also be challenges that will arise when basketball finally resumes, whenever that may be. Most notably, NBA teams will likely face a physical adjustment period due to being away from practice for so long.

"We’re basically on call," Stevens said, "and so our talking point with the team has been trying to stay a week away from your best shape at all times because when we do come back, and ultimately are going to practice, we're going to have to plan those practices with our sports science group appropriately.”

There could also be a mental adjustment to potentially playing in empty arenas until the league deems it safe to play among fans. Though, Stevens doesn’t think that will be too difficult for his players considering what he has seen from them during their practices inside the Auerbach Center.

“I guess playing without fans would be much more like a typical practice environment, and I think that the one thing about these guys is they don't compete any less hard in practice,” Stevens said. “In fact, sometimes in those quiet gyms where you can hear everything somebody else is saying, it gets even more feisty. And so, I think that it would be great basketball if we're able to do that.”

Stevens noted, however, that playing in such an intimate environment wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as playing in front of a thunderous packed house at TD Garden. For they miss their home crowd just about as much as they miss the game itself.

“I can't tell you how excited we’ll be when we do get a chance to play and I can't tell you how much more exponentially excited we’ll be when we get a chance to play at TD Garden in front of our fans,” Stevens said. “I think we're all looking forward to that moment and the ability to feel free to do that and feel able to do that.”

Until that day comes, Stevens and his players will continue to adjust to their significant routine change, all while staying on their toes so that they’ll be ready for when basketball makes its long-awaited return.

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