By Jim Fenton, The Enterprise (Brockton)
WALTHAM, Mass. -- Her introduction to women’s college basketball came in the 1970s at Kelly Gym on the campus of what was then called Bridgewater State College.
Barbara Stevens was a guard for the Bears from 1972-76, and it was during that period when she developed a keen interest in becoming a basketball coach.
“I was interested in the coaching aspect of the game while I was a player at Bridgewater,″ recalled Stevens. “That was something I distinctly remember.
“I did, through playing, discover I was really interested in the Xs and Os part of the game. I would go out to coaches’ clinics when I was a player at Bridgewater. I remember Bobby Knight and some of those very famous now retired coaches leading those clinics.
“Maybe it was because I wasn’t such a great player, but I had a real interest in coaching.″
The 1976 Bridgewater State graduate not only became a women’s college coach, but she is well-established as one of the best in the business.
And now, Stevens is on the verge of becoming just the seventh women’s and men’s college coach ever to win 1,000 games.
The milestone can be reached on Wednesday night if her fifth-ranked Bentley University team defeats Adelphi University in Waltham.
Stevens, now in her 41st season as a head coach including 32 years at Bentley, is 999-274 with 842 of those wins with the Falcons.
The only other women’s coaches to record 1,000 wins were Pat Summit (Tennessee), Tara Van Derveer (Stanford), Geno Auriemma (Connecticut) and Sylvia Hatchell (North Carolina). Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) and Herb Magee (Thomas Jefferson University) are the only men to reach that number.
Stevens found her way to Bridgewater State after graduating from Southbridge High, and she made an impression with teammates.
“She was always very analytical,″ said Oliver Ames High girls basketball coach Elaine Clement-Holbrook, who roomed with Stevens at Bridgewater State for two years and was a college teammate. “When she was a player at Bridgewater, you could tell just the way she handled herself as a player that she understood things at a different level.
“Her ability to anticipate things before they happened, her ability to process those things, to always be one thought ahead.″
The Bears played at Kelly Gym and Stevens, a member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, has fond memories of her four years at the college.
“If I had the opportunity, I would do it all over again,″ she said. “It was great. I enjoyed every minute of it.″
Stevens landed a part-time job as an assistant coach at Clark University in Worcester right out of Bridgewater State, then became the head coach in the 1977-78 season.
After six years there, Stevens moved up to the University of Massachusetts for three seasons before getting the Bentley job in 1986.
The Falcons have gone 842-184 in her tenure, winning the Division 2 national championship in 2014 to cap a 35-0 season. She is a five-time national coach of the year, has won 14 regional titles and made the national semifinal round 10 times.
Next up is the 1,000-win milestone to join a select group.
“It’s just awesome,″ said Clement-Holbrook. “I’m so happy for her.″
Clement-Holbrook, who owns the Massachusetts record for girls basketball wins with 664, plans on being on hand on Wednesday night, hoping to see the 1,000th win.
“It’s so full circle, being friends since she was 18 and ending up doing the same thing in the same part of the country and having sorts of connections,″ said Clement-Holbrook. “I had Lauren Battista play for me and win a state championship (for OA), and then Lauren played for Barbara and won a national championship.
“You can’t make that stuff up. That why it means so much to me.″
Stevens, whose team is 16-1, has been deflecting praise as the milestone approached.
Her focus is always on the team’s success and the growth of her players.
“I’m not looking at it as anything for myself,″ said Stevens. “Sometimes down the road, I’ll be able to sit back and reflect. This has allowed me a chance to reflect on my past teams at Clark, UMass and here at Bentley and all the wonderful people I’ve been associated with.
“When I graduated from Bridgewater, did I ever imagine I would have this kind of longevity in this profession? Probably not. It’s rare a lot of people do have this longevity because it’s a tough profession.
“I still love it. I still love the interaction with the players and trying to make a positive impact on their lives. I still have the passion and the love for my players and all the people I work with.″