WALTHAM — The NBA’s youngest coach doesn’t age much.
In fact, there’s little difference between what Brad Stevens looks like now, at 37, and what he looked like in his senior yearbook photo, taken about two decades ago at Zionsville High School in Indiana.
“Look at the color of his hair,” suggested Bobby Fong, the former president at Butler University, where Stevens spent 13 years, the last six as the men’s basketball coach. “When he started [here], he had a good bit of brown in his hair. He’s a lot grayer now.”
But if Stevens gained any gray during his first season as the Celtics’ coach, well, it isn’t obvious. And after 82 games (57 of them losses), bags don’t surround his eyes, either.
Indeed, although some predicted that Stevens would age presidentially during an abysmal rebuilding campaign, during which his team won just 25 games, he still somehow looks youthful.
“That makes me feel good,” Stevens said with a laugh in his office Thursday morning, after completing exit interviews with players following the regular-season finale the night before at TD Garden.
Though he said he feels fine physically, Stevens no doubt is frustrated with his team, and especially with himself.
“I don’t feel like I completely solved the puzzle of this team,” Stevens said, “and that’s something that, for the most part, I have always done.”
He also has always felt that he could find the answer to fix a team’s struggles.
“I don’t feel like I found those answers maybe as quickly as I have [in the past],” he said, “and that bothers me.”
He’ll take some time off, perhaps go to his lake house in Northern Indiana with his wife, Tracy, and their two young children, son Brady and daughter Kinsley. He’ll attend some Red Sox games at Fenway Park, if he can.
But mostly, Stevens will be focused on basketball, as always.
“I’m thinking about Sept. 30 — right now,” Stevens said, referencing when the Celtics will likely gather for training camp. “I know that’s not right, but that’s just kind of the way I’m wired.”
He is about the “process” and “getting better” and “winning” and little else.
His white office walls are bare, save for a few family photos. (“I’m pretty bland. I’m not a big decorator.”) He has a small wooden shelf lined with books about improvement in one form or another, though none appeared to be about the sport he coaches. (“I’m not a big basketball book guy.”)
He believes in details and in focusing to find the ones that will make the difference, and Stevens said this season has steeled his resolve to see this rebuilding process through until the Celtics reach the other side.
With a six-year contract Stevens has time, but does he see himself in Boston for that long, especially after speculation arose early that he’d one day leave for a top-flight college program?
“I think that will be up to the decision-makers,” Stevens said, a nod to Celtics ownership. “My commitment is to do it and to be here. The part that is very real about this is, you can’t win 25 games a year and do this for very long. We’ve got to get better. I know that. Nobody is going to hold themself to a higher standard than I am.”
Point guard Rajon Rondo applauded Stevens’s effort this season.
“He did the best that he could do,” said Rondo. “He’s had a lot of different rotations thrown at him, a lot of guys that played that didn’t play [before]. So, for the most part, I think he did an excellent job.”
When asked about Stevens’s first season in the league, team president Danny Ainge reflected on his own debut as an NBA coach in 1996-97 with the Phoenix Suns.
“Brad is a lot smarter than I am at coaching, and he has a lot more experience than I did, but I remember in my first year coaching I took away the fact that I need to simplify the game rather than trying to do too much,” said Ainge. “I think Brad figured that out during the course of this year.”
Ainge added, “I have no worries about Brad. Brad is maybe the only thing in our whole organization that I’m not concerned about.”
Forward Gerald Wallace said Stevens will improve by leaps and bounds simply because he now has a year of NBA experience.
“This is one of those roller coasters where you just learn as you go and you prepare as you go,” Wallace said. “I think now he knows what to expect, he knows the game situation, he knows the speed of the game, the adjustments come fast, you’ve got to make them in the game. So, I think he’ll do a whole lot better next year.”
Stevens was unhappy with the record but pleased that the locker room stayed united and thrilled with the fan support, as the Celtics played to 97 percent capacity at the Garden with many sellouts, including the finale.
“I’ve never seen a community like this that embraces the four professional sports teams like this,” Stevens said. “It’s amazing. The way that they came out all year for our team was unbelievable.”
But the defensive-minded coach wants his team to have a “defensive DNA” next season. He also believes the team needs help. “We clearly are going to need to add to our team to be better,” he said.
Personally, Stevens wants to improve, and he will spend much of his summer working toward that end. He has been warned before about the possibility of burning himself out, but he doesn’t believe that will happen.
“There’s an old adage of, ‘This is what I do, it’s not who I am,’ ” he said. “There is a line that gets blurry at times because you sometimes become your work, or you sometimes put so much into your work that you can’t separate from it. It swallows you up. It really happens during the season and it’s a difficult line to manage. But I think I probably do a better job of that then I used to.”
Said Rondo: “He puts in the work. I think that’s big in a coach.”
It’s all Stevens wants to be known for.
“At the end of the day, when I’m done coaching here, I want people to say that he busted it to try to make them as good as they could be on a daily basis — that’s it,” Stevens said.
“Obviously, like everybody else, I’d love to have banners flying and rings and all those other things, but you’ve got to control what you can control, and that is what you put into it.”
For the next few months, Stevens will work as much as possible, controlling everything that he can, all to make sure that the Celtics don’t suffer a repeat of what he and his players just endured — one of the worst seasons in the history of the franchise.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.