The Butler way (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday December 4, 2007 11:31AM; Updated: Tuesday December 4, 2007 3:56PM
"I've sat behind every desk in this office," Stevens says. "I may be a new coach, but I'm not new to the program. Within a week after I was hired, we had our staff in place and we had talked to everyone we were recruiting. So right away we were able to get on the phone with our players and say, Hey, we're getting right back in the gym on Monday and we're going to keep playing Butler basketball."
Very few mid-major schools -- heck, very few high-major schools -- can match Butler's tradition. The lineage dates back to 1924, when Butler won the collegiate national championship at the AAU National Tournament in Kansas City. The program's heyday came under legendary coach Tony Hinkle, who besides coaching football and baseball at the school also coached basketball for 41 years before retiring in 1970. He was enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1965.
The program floundered for 19 years after Hinkle's retirement, so much so that by the time Collier took over in 1989, the school had stopped awarding athletic scholarships. Collier's first team won just six games and once went 44 days between wins (but who's counting).
Perhaps his strongest asset in resurrecting the program was Butler's home gym, Hinkle Fieldhouse. Like Allen Fieldhouse, Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Palestra, Hinkle is a classic old barn that is believed to be the only college basketball arena listed officially as a national-historic landmark. Not only has Hinkle been the scene for many memorable Butler games, but it was also the setting for one of the most famous moments in basketball lore: Milan High's upset of Muncie Central in the 1954 Indiana state tournament that was immortalized in the movie Hoosiers. (The climactic scenes in the film were actually filmed in Hinkle.)
It's early, but Stevens looks like a worthy extension of that tradition. He may have a cherubic mien ("I keep waiting for one of our players to ask Brad during a time out to get him a towel," Collier quips), but he acted wisely when assembling his staff: Every one of his assistants has either played or coached at Butler. As a result, says Stevens, "I don't have to coach my coaches. I can just coach my players."
Having a strong culture is especially critical because Butler will never be able to compete with the major powers on the recruiting trail. Just look at that all-senior starting five. Three transferred from other Division-I schools, including one (Mike Green) from Towson and another (Pete Campbell) from IPFW. Leading scorer A.J. Graves had virtually no other Division-I offers, though that may have been because his two older brothers had played at Butler.
Then there's Streicher, who wasn't offered any scholarships out of high school. He enrolled at Butler because of its prominent pharmaceutical program and didn't consider playing college ball until the coaches invited him to walk on. After redshirting his freshman season, Streicher played 6.4 minutes per game the next year and was put on scholarship. Now, after three years of hard work, Streicher is playing 23 minutes a game and averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds. "He's what you dream a walk-on would be after five years," Stevens says.
Butler's current freshman class is a sign the program may have turned a corner. Freshman forward Matt Howard, who scored 23 points in the win over Ohio State, was recruited by Purdue, Indiana and Xavier, among others. But this being Continuity U, it's doubtful the recruiting dynamic will ever change all that much.
"We have to find guys who really want to be a part of something special," Stevens says. "They have to want to earn a quality degree, enjoy what Butler University and Indianapolis have to offer and hopefully compete at a high level in basketball. We've been fortunate that we've been able to find guys who fit those roles."
They've been fortunate to find coaches who fit that role, too. It's unlikely Stevens will be moving on anytime soon, but should that day come, the result will be as simple as it is predictable. Butler will find another Man to replace him, and the Way will go on as usual. "If I'm not their head coach tomorrow, these players are going to love Butler for what it is," Stevens says. "That's the way it should be."
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