WINTER PARK, Fla. — Kelly Olynyk learned Wednesday when his plane landed in Orlando for summer league: Brad Stevens, 36, was going to become coach of the Celtics.
For Olynyk, the Celtics’ first-round pick in this year’s draft, it meant reuniting with a prodigy coach whose Butler Bulldogs handed the former Gonzaga 7-footer one of the more painful losses of his college career.
“I’m sure he’ll bring it up once or twice this year,” Olynyk said Saturday, forcing a smile before his team held a practice.
The loss came in January at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Gonzaga led by 1 with 3.5 seconds left after Olynyk sank a pair of free throws.
But Butler’s Roosevelt Jones stole an inbounds pass intended for Olynyk, then drove the length of the court and buried a floater at the buzzer. Butler 64, Gonzaga 63.
“Yeah, we were just trying to throw it over the top and get the ball in,” Olynyk said. “Basically, we wanted to do anything but what happened.”
The rookie big man, who will play in his first summer league game Sunday morning when the Celtics face Orlando at the Amway Center, said that game and others left an impression.
“He’s a great coach,” Olynyk said. “I really respect him, I think he’s a great basketball mind, absolute genius kind of thing.
“I really respect him because he knows the game, and know he’s a student of the game. He’s a real smart guy, I’m really looking forward to working with him.”
Olynyk also said that the style alone of Stevens’s Butler teams also stood out.
“They are so disciplined; execution is sound,” Olynyk said. “They really execute, they really take game plans and put them into play. And a lot of that has to do with him.
“It’s kinda like, when we were playing, you think you know what’s coming, but you really don’t. You think something’s coming, then all of a sudden they have a counter to the counter or something. It’s unbelievable. He’s got a basketball mind that has really developed into great coaching.”
Olynyk was one of several Celtics who showered praise on the new coach.
“I know him a lot,” said forward Jared Sullinger, who is on hand to work out but won’t play because he’s still recovering from season-ending back surgery in April.
“He actually coached with my head coach at the Ohio State University, Coach [Thad] Matta, [when Matta was the head man at Butler]. Coach Stevens is a great coach; you see what he did at Butler and hopefully what he’s going to do with us. It’s going to be a lot of fun this year.”
Sullinger described Stevens’s coaching style as similar to Matta’s — “not too loud; not too quiet. Lets you know when you’re wrong. One hell of a coach, gets all his players working hard, and I think that’s the best thing about Coach Stevens.”
As far as his immediate reaction, Sullinger said he was excited on several fronts.
“I knew we were going to go in another direction; I knew we were going to go young,” Sullinger said. “The whole team is young now. It was just a blessing to see that he made it to this level. I’m happy for him, but at the same time we got a lot of work to do.”
The fact that Stevens has no pro experience — and is now the youngest coach in the NBA — didn’t seem much of a concern to Sullinger.
“He’s going to let us know what he wants from us, what he will take from us, and what he’s expecting from us,” Sullinger said. “I think that’s how we’re going to judge it. But I know one thing: He’s going to have us all working hard.”
There was another member of the Celtics’ summer league team who faced off with Stevens’s Butler teams in college: former Duke guard Nolan Smith. Smith was a member of the 2010 Blue Devils team that defeated Butler in the NCAA championship game, 61-59.
“I had a chance to talk to him a little bit before the game and got to know him a little bit,” said Smith, who scored 13 points in that title-clinching win. “He seems like a very nice guy, great person, and obviously a great coach.
“I know [Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski] speaks very highly of [Stevens] and when he got the job, Coach K called me and said, ‘You have an opportunity to play for a great guy and a great coach.’ So just hearing that from Coach K, it really got me excited.”
From that title game, Smith said he described the team Duke faced as a “hard-nosed” defensive squad that played hard and together.
“Obviously, they weren’t the most talented team,” Smith said. “Obviously, they had Shelvin [Mack] and Gordon [Hayward], but the year after that they had a bunch of average guys, but those guys played hard, they fought, they scrapped, and a team like that is tough to beat.”
Smith added, jokingly, that he hopes Stevens doesn’t hold that loss against him.
“We can share it,” Smith said.
. . .
Butler announced that Brandon Miller, a Butler graduate and former point guard and assistant coach for the Bulldogs, will be its new coach.
“Congratulations to the Millers,” Stevens tweeted. “Brandon is an inspiring person and coach — just like he played! One of BU’s all-time greats.”