EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Everyone knows about Butler coach Brad Stevens now. There have been a seemingly infinite number of stories written about what he's done, and the way he is, and how Butler has become the model mid-major program in college basketball.
But there are still people on this earth who have never met Brad Stevens in person. Yesterday's Butler-Duke game was the first time I ever covered a Bulldogs game, and Stevens' postgame press conference was a terrific experience.
If we all learned something about Butler from the way they played in an 82-70 loss to the Blue Devils, I think I can say I personally learned something from the way Stevens conducted himself afterward.
I know I haven't been at this for an especially long time, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a coach as singularly focused and driven on getting the very best out of his team at every minute as Stevens. He is not a super-intense person (think of Jimmy Patsos as being at one end of that scale), but he is amazingly unflappable.
Everything he says relates to the game, and the moment. He does not introduce distractions to himself or his team, nor does he allow them in from outside. He does an exceptional job of deflecting any questions on how he feels about having his program in the national spotlight.
So what if making the national championship game last season has made his program glamorous? So what if the national media places thousands of words' worth of pressure on his program - and decrees failure if any result goes against that conventional wisdom? Stevens just keeps going, coaching hard and getting his players to play even harder.
It is a fortification that seems from afar to be as strong as the walls that encircle the great medieval cities of Europe. Against those ramparts, journalists play a role akin to that of an invading army. And just like that army, it is a natural instinct of journalists to try to overcome the erected barrier.
That's what I did yesterday. I wanted to get something out of Stevens, however small, about what it feels like to be in his position, riding a rocket ship from Hinkle Fieldhouse into the college basketball stratosphere.
Whether or not I should have done so, I felt it a better use of the allotted time than to ask an even more clichéd question about what transpired on the court. So when the opportunity came, I took it:
Q. Coach, could you talk about coming into a game like this, and all the outside hype and attention that was being generated about it? I know that you guys have been really good at blocking that out, but what was that like?