Derrick Stevens (B.A., ’04) knows a thing or two about CSU history. In fact, he lived it as point guard in the legendary basketball team that upset the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a magical 62-61 win in the 2003 Mountain West Tournament. Underdogs till the last shot, it’s the furthest CSU has gone in the MWC to date and an experience that shaped the trajectory of Stevens’ life and career as a coach and scout.
Now, almost 20 years later, Stevens is creating CSU history again by coaching a basketball team of former Rams in the national “TBT” tournament. Short for “The Basketball Tournament,” TBT originated in 2011 and is composed of 64 teams from regions around the country that compete for $1 million every year. Stevens describes it as a winner-take-all, March Madness type of tourney and is excited about the upcoming 2022 season that begins this summer. All the Rams on the team play professionally around the world and include CSU Hall-of-Famer and former NBA pro Jason Smith.
As someone who played professionally for 12 years overseas, coached in the NBA G League, and worked in China as an international scout and coach, Stevens is more than ready for the job and excited to help Rams stay connected to their alma mater.
“This is more than just a tournament,” said Stevens. “It’s about giving CSU players a network where they feel welcomed and can make meaningful connections. Even if they don’t make the TBT roster, we’re here to offer guidance to athletes and help them navigate career opportunities after they graduate and beyond.”
This Rams athlete-to-alumni connection is something Stevens didn’t experience after he left CSU, but he credits the University for helping him develop the grit and hard work ethic that helped him succeed in his career. Anyone who watches Stevens coach now would assume he’s a natural, but a single moment in the final 2003 Mountain West Tournament game turned the tide on his philosophy on team sports.
“I made a mistake in the game, and coach put me on the bench. One of my teammates, the backup point guard who wasn’t playing any minutes, actually took time to assist me and talk to me through that mistake, which wouldn’t have happened early in the season. That experience educated me about the true meaning of team basketball and how everything is supposed to operate.”
Ram on the Rise
A star player in junior college before coming to Colorado State, Stevens averaged 28 points per game and had signed with Georgetown with plans for high-level play in the Big East. After some personal mistakes, however, his opportunities changed and he entered what he describes as “ground zero.”
“No college wanted me, so it was up to me to pick myself up – I knew if I got another chance, I could rewrite the story even if everyone had written me off. If you’re down, you don’t need to stay down.”
After eventually getting accepted into the University of Hawaii, a coach Stevens knew invited him to play in a tournament in Phoenix that summer. Resigned and reluctant at first, and ready for life in the Pacific, Stevens finally accepted the offer and geared up for some summer play before leaving the Lower 48.
Scoring more than 40 points per game, Stevens put on a show! The college coaches in attendance took notice and offer letters poured in – whereas he struggled to gain any attention prior to the tournament. The coaches at Colorado State were the last to approach him, and after consulting with some trusted friends and associates, Stevens was convinced that CSU would be best for his development as a player.
Stevens often wonders if and how his coaching career would have developed if he didn’t attend Colorado State. One thing is certain: The maturity and experience he gained at the University shaped his coaching style, which focuses on the players and not just the plays.
“One of the testaments to being a successful coach is if you can take a guy who’s selfish and make him become selfless. A lot of coaches are good at just drawing plays, but for me it’s about forming relationships with players, how you communicate with them, and how they respect you.”
With his new opportunity of coaching former Rams in the TBT Tournament, Stevens sees a bright future with his involvement at Colorado State and bridging the gap between CSU athletes and their professional careers. Asked if he had any words of wisdom for Ram athletes just starting out, it didn’t take long for Stevens to offer this nugget of insight:
“Don’t let your failures and mistakes define you, let them refine you!”
Ram Legends Come Together to Play at Moby July 14!
Organized and developed by Derrick Stevens, the inaugural RamUp alumni event at Moby Arena will place Ram legends against each other for some #MobyMadness-inspiring basketball! The TBT players will break up into two teams – one led by recently retired NBA star Jason Smith, and the other by CSU Hall-of-Famer and former NBA star Pat Durham – for the game. RamUp also includes a dunk contest and a three-point contest in honor of Becky Hammon.
Stevens sees RamUp as the perfect way to kick off the TBT Tournament and further strengthen Ram athletes and alumni to their alma mater. And it’s going to be fun! Stevens plans to further develop this new CSU tradition in the years to come, including adding an after-event and incorporating past Ram stars from other sports – such as football – into the game.
Tip-off is 6 pm July 14. Click here to purchase tickets.