Born and raised in Zionsville, Indiana, Stevens starred on the Zionsville Community High School basketball team, setting four school records. After high school, he attended DePauw University, where he played basketball and earned a degree in economics. He made the all-conference team multiple times and was a three-time Academic All-America nominee. He transitioned into coaching after quitting his job at Eli Lilly and Company, joining the basketball program at Butler University as a volunteer prior to the 2000–01 season. He was promoted to a full-time assistant coach the following season. After five seasons in the role, he assumed the position of head coach on April 4, 2007, after Todd Lickliter left to coach the Iowa Hawkeyes. In his first year, Stevens led Butler to 30 wins, becoming the third-youngest head coach in NCAA Division I history to have a 30-win season.