Brad Stevens plans to take a week this summer and research how teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference operate. That's a week of preparation more than a year ahead of time.
The advance legwork says a lot about Stevens.
It also says a lot about the likelihood of Butler University men's basketball program thriving when it moves to the A-10. It's very likely, and the reason is coach Stevens' incredible focus and commitment.
Stevens drove to Fort Wayne on Monday to speak at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes lunch at the Memorial Coliseum Expo Center. He talked about Butler's approach to success, dating back to former coach and current athletic director Barry Collier. He also predicted Butler will continue to succeed long after Stevens is gone. His words are sincere. He also undersells his own contribution.
Moving from the Horizon League to the A-10 in 2013-14 is right for the school, not just men's basketball, Stevens said.
“It's a huge challenge, but Butler has always embraced challenge,” Stevens said. “We're invigorated by challenge.”
It's nice of Stevens to include other sports within the Butler athletic program. But let's be honest. This is all about men's basketball.
Butler men's basketball is the school's big (bull)dog, the program that brings the attention to the school. Back-to-back NCAA national championship game appearances worked wonders, although Butler was already forging a state front-runner status in wins and tourney success before that.
The A-10 is a good move because it gives Butler more chances at the NCAA Tourney with at-large bids. With the Horizon League, it was generally win the league title or bust. The A-10 regularly sends three or four teams to the tourney.
There's also some major A-10 competition ahead in Charlotte, Dayton, Duquesne, Fordham, George Washington, LaSalle, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, Saint Joseph's, Saint Louis and Xavier.
It's a who's who of mid-majors.
Butler will continue to be at the front of that who's who because of Stevens.
He calls former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy his favorite coach of all time, and they share a similarity beyond their Christian faith. They're both analytical and inspirational, devoted to the importance of preparation and organization.
Stevens dismisses the idea that some sort of recruiting adjustment could be needed to compete.
“We look for guys who can fit our program and field a team that competes nationally,” Stevens said. “It's not like when we got the (Gordon) Haywards and Shelvin) Macks of the world, we just thought they'd be OK in our league and that's enough. We thought they'd be the best of the best.”
Stevens and Butler have a year left in the Horizon Leagues and, thus, his week of studying A-10 programs is his limit for now.
Like any school changing conferences, Butler wants to leave on a high note.
Announcing the decision to move to the A-10 has given Stevens more freedom in recruiting, however, since he can tell potential players exactly who and where they'll be playing in the years ahead.
There's “clarity” in where Butler's future footprint will be, Stevens said.
Given the makeup of the team, all but three players will be part of Butler joining the A-10. So, in a sense, a lot of the recruiting will have been completed before the move. Imagine how Stevens could be even more effective now that he can pitch recruits on the road ahead that will include games in New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and St. Lous.
“Competitively, the Horizon League is very good,” Stevens said. “Perception doesn't equal the reality of the league and I've said that since I've been coach at Butler. But the difference right now is the A-10 has multiple at-large bids every year. Certainly, at the very least, the perception is there is some difference. I think it's probably less than people realize because of the strength of the Horizon League.”
Butler has always seemed like a natural rival to the likes of Xavier, Saint Louis, Dayton and those type of Midwest schools. It'll be interesting to see Butler up against schools in the east, such as LaSalle and George Washington.
“From a basketball standpoint, it's going to be incredibly challenging,” Steven said.
Stevens directed Butler to consecutive national title games. He had Butler within a sliver of beating Duke. He thrives on challenges and – speaking of perception – the idea that Butler can't do something.
Butler's change of conference might be the challenge needed to keep Stevens fresh at the school and hold off those inevitable job offers from bigger schools. There's no reason to believe Stevens won't lead Butler to immediate contention in the A-10.
His preparation has already begun. Other A-10 programs should consider themselves warned.