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    Celtics coach Brad Stevens praised by former players

    ORLANDO — Brad Stevens made Gordon Hayward believe when the two were at Butler University, Stevens as the basketball coach, Hayward as his star forward.

    “He was the first person to tell me he thought I could make it to the NBA,” said Hayward, now a member of the Utah Jazz, who are playing here in the summer league.

    Stevens left Butler last week to become the 17th head coach in Celtics history, and Hayward said Sunday he has plenty of faith that Stevens will do just fine in the pro ranks, even though he has no NBA experience.


    “He knows what he’s doing,” Hayward said. “He realizes everything that everybody is saying about it, the challenge that he’s going to face. It doesn’t matter. He’ll be successful wherever he’s at.”

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    The personality trait that sticks out about Stevens is his poise. That comes from extreme preparedness, Hayward said.

    “He does his research on guys and knows what he’s doing before the ball even goes up,” Hayward said. “Even if they make an adjustment, he’s already prepared in his mind what he’s going to do, what he thinks is going to work. He’s got a backup for that and a backup if the backup doesn’t work.

    “That’s why he’s so poised, in my opinion, because he had done his homework early. He knows basketball, as well. He’s been in it his whole life and he’s been a student of the game. He knows it inside and out.”

    Andrew Smith, a former Butler center who is playing on the Thunder’s summer league team, also praised Stevens’s attention to detail.


    As evidence, Smith noted that Stevens hired Drew Cannon, who is in graduate school at Butler and is considered the first pure statistics-based hire on a college basketball staff.

    “And I think they went over like a 10-hour report before and after every single game,” Smith said. “That alone proves it, and that’s just part of what he does.

    “And his ability to [digest] all that and give it to us in a way that’s understandable, and just give us three or four key things that we can focus on each game, and not just be overwhelmed . . . is very impressive.”

    Like Hayward, Smith has faith that Stevens will win in the NBA.

    “He’ll be great,” Smith said. “That’s one of his best things, dealing with different situations. It might take him a little bit of time to get adjusted, college is a lot different than the NBA, but with a talent like him, it’s only a matter of time before he’s able to figure it out. I think he’ll be pretty good in a few years.”


    But it’s not as though it was easy for Stevens to leave Butler, according to Smith.

    “I’ve talked to all the guys on the team,” Smith said. “They said that locker room meeting was pretty emotional, and they were on break, so some of the players weren’t even in town, were not able to hear about it until the media. A situation like that is tough, but we’re all excited for him. We know this is a pretty unique opportunity and he’d be pretty foolish to pass it up.”

    Olynyk signs rookie deal

    The Celtics announced that they signed Kelly Olynyk to his rookie contract. The scale for the No. 13 pick starts at $1.65 million for the 2013-14 season and teams can pay up to 120 percent of that total. All rookie contacts are for five years, with options in Years 3 and 4 and the ability to give a qualifying offer in Year 5 . . . In Dwight Howard, Rockets coach Kevin McHale has arguably the league’s most dominant center at his disposal. And though McHale is still beaming, the former Celtics great isn’t ready to organize a championship parade in Houston just yet. “We’ll see. Let’s get everybody together,” McHale said. “I feel really comfortable we can compete with anybody.” . . . Paul Pierce, traded by the Celtics to the Nets in a swap that won’t be official until Friday, has been spending the last few days in Las Vegas playing in the World Series of Poker. Wearing his 2008 NBA championship ring, Pierce played in a $10,000 pot limit Omaha tournament, but busted out Sunday.

    Baxter Holmes can be reached at