Tom Thibodeau on Bill Belichick: ‘He finds a way to win’

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Milwaukee Bucks’ Shaun Livingston, center, puts up a shot against Chicago Bulls’ Carlos Boozer (5) and Luol Deng (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

MILWAUKEE – Who does coach Tom Thibodeau like in the Super Bowl? ‘‘Who’s in it?” he said.

But while Thibodeau has little interest in the game itself, he does have a healthy respect for New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Thibodeau was an assistant coach with the Celtics for three seasons (2007-10) during Belichick’s reign with the Patriots. ‘‘I haven’t had the opportunity to spend any time with him, but I’d like to,” Thibodeau said.

Thibodeau and Belichick have similar backgrounds. Both went to small colleges in New England (Thibodeau at Salem State in Salem, Mass.; Belichick at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., 12 miles from Thibodeau’s hometown of New Britain). Both were defensive assistants for championship coaches (the Celtics’ Doc Rivers; the Giants’ Bill Parcells). And both were fortunate to get their big breaks at the right time (Thibodeau inherited Derrick Rose; Belichick has made five Super Bowls with Tom Brady).

‘‘[Belichick is] a great coach. Year after year he finds a way to win,” Thibodeau said. ‘‘Whenever they lose players, he always finds guys that can step in and fill the roles for the team to succeed. He’s done a great job of building a ­culture that each year they have a chance to win it.”

Hero’s welcome

Rookie Jimmy Butler was given a good amount of grief from his teammates when the Bulls arrived for their morning shootaround at the Al McGuire Center on the Marquette campus, where Butler played for three seasons.

‘‘It doesn’t help that you come in here and you see my picture on the wall. They got a kick out of that,” Butler said. “Marquette always shows love to their former players, NBA or not NBA. It doesn’t matter. You play here, everybody loves you. But I definitely took a lot [of grief] from them this morning, just being back in Milwaukee.”

Butler said playing for Marquette coach Buzz Williams turned him into an NBA player. He was a scoring star at Tyler Junior College but became an all-around player in three seasons at Marquette.

‘‘This is definitely where it started,” he said. ‘‘The NBA wasn’t an option when I stepped through these doors for the first time and Buzz started to coach me. Buzz is like a version of Thibs. They know what they’re doing. They’ve studied the game. And defense really does win championships.

Comeback kid

Former Peoria Central star Shaun Livingston, who went from high school to the NBA but suffered a devastating knee injury with the Los Angeles Clippers, is starting for the Bucks. The 6-7 Livingston, who led Chuck Buescher’s Peoria Central Lions to back-to-back state championships, averages 7.8 points and 2.4 assists in 23.5 minutes.

‘‘He’s played well for us,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. ‘‘His length has been important for us. He gives us another ball-handler in the game. He’s got great vision. He’s still learning some of the things we’re trying to do ­defensively as well.

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