Tonight, Bentley University Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Barbara Stevens reached a tremendous milestone becoming just the fifth women’s basketball coach earn 1000 victories. Like the women’s basketball coaches before her to reach the mark (Sylvia Hatchell, Geno Auriemma, Tara VanDerveer and Pat Summit) Coach Stevens is a basketball legend.
Coach Stevens is a Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer. Coach Stevens led Bentley to a National Championship during the 2013-2014 season. Coach Stevens boasts twelve, yes twelve, 30 win seasons and more than likely, pending the selection committee, Coach Stevens will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame come September 2018.
In Coach Stevens’ amazing 31 year tenure as the Head Coach at powerhouse Bentley University (DII – NE-10), the Falcons have averaged a mind-boggling 26+ wins a season. Her only sub .500 season was during the 14-15 season when her squad was hit hard by the injury bug.
Ironically, during the 2014-15 season I was the Head Coach at Southern Connecticut State University and our regular season conference game was the lone time I was fortunate enough to matchup against Coach Stevens. Despite her squad being hampered by injuries, the Falcons were up on us by nine points with about 5 minutes to go in the contest and looked as if Bentley was going to seal the win. However, we made one last push and went on a 13-0 run of our own to take a four point lead, only to have Bentley tie it up, 62-62, with under a minute to play. Fortunately, we executed Chop EOG set in the closing seconds of the game and held on for a 65-62 win.
Quite an accomplishment for me. 1-0 against the legend.
However, that win is not the story I tell my family, friends and coaching colleagues about Coach Stevens.
I tell them this one.
When I first came into the conference, I was the only male head coach at the time. With many veteran coaches in the league, I was feeling a bit ostracized at recruiting events and league meetings. Everyone knew everyone and then there was me. Sure I became friends with some of the coaches — Monique LeBlanc from Merrimack and Ty Grace from New Haven (now Head Coach at Howard University) come to mind, but I didn’t get paid too much attention from the veteran coaches.
Then one Saturday afternoon, I found myself near Coach Stevens. We began to chit-chat for about 30 minutes during a recruiting event at CCRI-Warwick campus. We got to know each other a bit during our talk. I asked Coach Stevens about her career, recruiting philosophy, the landscape of recruiting and the future of the game. I showed her a picture of my only daughter at the time, spoke about my program and the direction I was leading it. Coach Stevens told me that she respected how I was building the program at SCSU, which meant so much to me.
It still does.
I left that meaningful conversation realizing that Coach Stevens is an ego-free, down-to-earth person, who is not only a great coach but cares about the game enough to allow a young coach to pick her brain. More importantly though, I thought I may have made a new friend.
Fast forward to June 2015, I was not rehired at Southern Connecticut State University and spent the 2015-16 season networking, viewing practices and games in order to get back on the sidelines. It was a tough time in my coaching career and there were many moments of despair.
Then in March 2016 after Bentley made their Elite 8 run, I received an email from Coach Stevens saying that she heard of an opening that she thought I may be interested in and immediately forwarded me the application materials. During my campus interview, the athletic director reiterated that “Barbara Stevens recommended Coach DeSalvo” which instantly made the administration, student-athletes and president of the University consider me a serious candidate.
Why did Coach Stevens do this? Lord knows, she did not have to. I was an out-of-work basketball coach and she was about 950 wins into her Hall of Fame career. She would be no worse off if she was not thinking of Bert DeSalvo. I’ll tell you why because she is a good person who stuck her neck out for me when I needed some help. She had nothing to gain. She merely did it to help a young coach.
She did it to help me and wanted nothing in return. Isn’t that the definition of selflessness, charity and being a good person?
If I didn’t share this story, nobody would ever know. I’m sure Coach Stevens barely recalls her large act of kindness towards me and my family. However, I will never forget that Coach Stevens took time for me and thought of me enough as a coach to recommend me to a colleague of hers.
The wins are a staggering milestone but the it’s the relationships that last. I can only imagine the countless acts of kindness that Coach Stevens has displayed throughout her tenure as a head coach. I hope others will share their interactions with Coach Stevens so we can put some substance to the 1000 victories.
I’m sure Coach Stevens, a living legend, would agree that those moments are worth way more than her 1000 wins.
Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo