Brad Stevens Misses Celtics Game to Visit Ailing Former Player

Stevens has always preached a 'family-first' mentality.

Though it’s easy to preach the importance of perspective, sometimes it’s difficult to maintain it. But that’s exactly what Celtics head coach Brad Stevens did Thursday night when he missed his team’s game against the Chicago Bulls to visit an ailing former player of his.

The Indianapolis Star reports Stevens traveled to Indiana hours before game time to visit former Butler Bulldogs center Andrew Smith, who’s been battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for two years. Smith’s family asked for prayers Wednesday after he was readmitted to the hospital.

Smith, 25, was a four-year player at Butler and an integral part of the club’s 2010 Final Four run. Stevens coached at the university for 13 years and was head coach from 2007-2013.

This isn’t the first time Stevens has visited Smith this season. He dined with Smith in November alongside Celtics video coordinator Alex Barlow, who also played at Butler, when the Celtics were in Indiana taking on the Pacers.

“I’ve seen Andrew go through a lot of really tough stuff over the last two years, and that son of a gun always responds,” Stevens said at the time. “And he’s as tough as they come, and I have no doubt that he’ll respond again.”

The Celtics were mum on Stevens’ exact whereabouts Thursday, only opting to disclose in a statement that he was visiting a former player of his. Assistant Jay Larranaga handled the head coaching duties.

“He makes it very clear to our players on a day-to-day basis that family is the most important,” Larranaga said, via the Boston Globe. “I think our players do a great job of giving back to the community and the impact that they’re able to have in those areas are so much more important than what happens on the court. It’s just another example of the person that he is.”

The Celtics lost to the Bulls 101-92, dropping their fourth game in five outings to fall just outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The defeat came one night after a disheartening home loss to the Detroit Pistons, in which star point guard Isaiah Thomas complained about the team’s lack of a rotation and forward David Lee griped about playing time.

Given the increased expectations on the Celtics this season, it’s fair to say this may be the most trying time of Stevens’ tenure in Boston. But even with the adversity the team is currently facing, Stevens still prioritized his personal commitment to Smith above the Celtics’ current skid. The gesture didn’t go unnoticed by his players.

“I’m blown away [by the decision]. I’m lucky to play for him,” Evan Turner said after the game. “That says a lot. It says a lot about his character and obviously it puts him in a higher stature than I already had him.”