WALTHAM — This is where it all happens, in Barbara Stevens’s warm and inviting office on the second floor of Bentley University’s Dana Center. A large bookshelf behind her neatly arranged desk in the far left corner of the room is adorned with trophies and nets cut down from Northeast-10 title games and framed photos of the teams she has coached in 28 seasons as the head coach of Bentley’s wildly successful women’s basketball program.
“I keep telling my players if they keep winning them, then I’ll keep putting them up,’’ Stevens jokingly remarked to an office visitor Thursday afternoon.
But this is where Bentley’s unrelenting pursuit of perfection is mapped out on a daily basis. It is where Stevens doggedly prepares through exhaustive film study and advanced scouting. And, as anyone will tell you, Stevens, 58, is nothing if not a evangelical minister of the coaching gospel, “Practice makes perfect.’’
“Practice is the best part of my day,’’ Stevens said.
That’s when the bulk of her exhaustive video study has been completed, a game plan formulated, a practice script drafted — then revised numerous times — before heading to the court to put her theories through a live practice.
“I didn’t know exactly how hard she worked,’’ said Bentley assistant coach C White, in her 11th season on the bench at her alma mater after playing point guard for Stevens from 1997-2001. White said her time as a coach has given her a unique perspective of Stevens she didn’t have as a player.
“I didn’t understand the amount of hours of film work that goes into every scout and every practice and I certainly didn’t know how many hours it would take her to make the perfect practice,’’ White said. “Literally, she’ll make a first copy [of the practice script], she’ll revise it, then revise it, hand it to me, and I’ll print out two copies and five minutes before practice, she’ll hand me another [revision] because she’s so meticulous about practice — every day.
“I had no clue all the work that went into it every day. We just showed up and had to play hard. I think she outworks any coach that I’ve ever seen. She’s just a hard, hard worker.’’
No one can argue with Stevens’s approach as the Falcons, the No. 1 team in Division 2, went 26-0 in the regular season (21-0 in Northeast-10 Conference play) and are 28-0 entering Sunday’s NE-10 championship game against Adelphi at the Dana Center.
“I think we try not to stand in their way too much,’’ Stevens said about her approach with her veteran-laden club, led by two-time conference player of the year Lauren Battista, a 6-foot senior forward from North Easton who ranks as Bentley’s all-time leading scorer with 1,982 career points in 126 starts.
“We have the luxury of having some size and some versatility,’’ Stevens said. “Our forwards are highly capable. They’re very athletic and they can guard people on the perimeter and so we’ve been able to do some things defensively to take advantage of the players we have.
“No rocket science here. Just let the players play and let them do what they do best. I think, as a coach, you evolve based on who you have and you determine what you do based on what you have. Fortunately, this year, these players have allowed us to take the reins off of them and to let them play.’’
The top-seeded Falcons are attempting to win their fourth consecutive conference title and 17th overall, the last 14 under Stevens, who owns a 753-155 record at the school.
But Stevens has not broached the subject of going undefeated with her team.
“It’s the next game, it’s the next-game mentality,’’ said Stevens, a 2006 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee who on Jan. 25 became the sixth women’s coach to reach 900 career victories.
Stevens recalled the pressure that mounted as she neared the milestone. Her first chance to reach 900, against Saint Anselm at home, it coincided with Bentley’s alumni game and Battista’s bid to supplant Kelly Barker as the school’s all-time leading scorer,
“All these stars were coming into alignment,’’ Stevens said. “I immerse myself in preparation for opponents and I don’t like distractions and I don’t like distractions for my team, either. I felt the most pressure in the game prior to that because I thought to myself, ‘OK, all this could happen on this day, but we’ve got to win this game first.’
“It was the most pressure I felt up to this point because so much was riding on everything turning out right.’’
Following an 87-65 decision at New Haven Jan. 22 for win No. 899, Stevens decided to “address the elephant in the room.”
“We know that Saturday could potentially be a big day,’’ Stevens told her players. “It could be a big day for our team, for Lauren, and that’s all I’m going to say about that. That’s what potentially could happen and it’s going to be up to you guys anyway, it always is.’ ”
At no time, however, did Stevens mention how big a day it could potentially be for herself.
“I really have a hard time saying, ‘Could you win this for me?’ ’’ Stevens said. “That sounds weird coming out of my mouth, to be honest. It’s a program win, it’s not a ‘Me’ win. I couldn’t do this without them, so it’s nice you get the number attached to your name but there are so many players who are attached to it, it’s a line that keeps going and going and going.
“That’s the neatest thing about being a coach, is that you do this with a group of people, and granted each team is different, but this year’s team has been so enjoyable to be around.’’
That’s because they personify their coach.
“I think it’s reflected in our games,’’ Battista said. “She’s very even-keeled and I feel like we play the same way, with a lot of poise and we’re not an emotional team that has highs and lows. If bad things happen we just shake it off, and if good things happen, that’s what we expect in the first place so we’re just happy with that. So we just emulate the same tone she does, and it works.’’
And while she has tirelessly pushed for perfection from her players and her program, Stevens made something of a stunning acknowledgment that she was far from perfect.
“I know I have been doing this a long time and I have this certain reputation,’’ Stevens said. “Sometimes some of my players view me as like I know everything and whatever comes out of my mouth is the law and that’s it.
“But if we have a bad game, or if we lose, I’m the first one to say you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror and what could we have done better that would’ve made the difference,’’ she said. “The fact that they know I’m not perfect — but I’m trying to be. I’m trying to be as good for them as I can.
“As long as they know I’m working hard for them, then everything is fine.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.