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The Butler way

Stevens is just one in a line of Butler Man coaches

Posted: Tuesday December 4, 2007 11:31AM; Updated: Tuesday December 4, 2007 3:56PM
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Under first-year head coach Brad Stevens, the Bulldogs are off to a 7-0 start and ranked 13th in the AP Poll.
Under first-year head coach Brad Stevens, the Bulldogs are off to a 7-0 start and ranked 13th in the AP Poll.
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Two days after Butler coach Todd Lickliter left for Iowa last April, Butler's athletic director, Barry Collier, held a meeting with the players. The Bulldogs were coming off a stellar 29-7 season that ended with a Sweet 16 loss to Florida. It was the school's second trip to the Sweet 16 in the last five years and its sixth trip to the NCAA tournament in the last 11 years. So when Collier asked the players whom he should hire, their answer was as simple as it was predictable:

We want a Butler Man.

Funny, but Collier had been thinking the same thing. Though more than 100 coaches from the outside had already inquired about the opening, Collier, a Butler Man himself who graduated in 1976 and coached there from 1989-2000, interviewed just three people for the job -- and they were all Lickliter's assistants. He quickly settled on Brad Stevens, even though Stevens was only 30 years old and had never been a head coach. "It was," says Collier, "a fairly simple decision."

What has followed is also as simple as it is predictable. Despite changing its coach for the third time in seven years, Butler is 7-0 and ranked 13th in this week's AP Poll. Last Saturday, the Bulldogs fell behind by 14 points to Ohio State in the first half before winning going away, 65-46.

That the win came against a Buckeyes team coached by another Butler Man (Thad Matta, a Butler grad who was head coach there in 2000-01) was less noteworthy than the way the Bulldogs won. Though they came into the game ranked No. 1 in three-point percentage, they missed their first 15 shots from behind the arc. It took a lot of patience, toughness and maturity for the players to hold on until their touch returned (they made 9 of 15 in the second half), but perhaps that's to be expected from a team that starts five seniors.

Butler may not have great size or athleticism, but this team plays with such efficiency and cohesion that after they beat Texas Tech in the final of the Great Alaska Shootout, Bob Knight said, "The best compliment I can give them is I wish my team played as smart as they did."

All of which is a reflection of what the folks at this small (3,900 undergrads) but proud private school in Indianapolis refer to as the Butler Way. "It's more of a culture than a concept," explains Drew Streicher, a 6-foot-8 senior forward. "It begins with personal accountability and putting your teammates above yourself. Then it's playing the game with passion, giving your all all the time, making the extra pass, getting the extra rebound. Off the court, it's conducting yourself in a way that represents Butler the best you can."

The desire to keep the Butler Way intact was what made Collier's decision to hire Stevens so simple. Though not technically a Butler graduate (he played for Depauw University, a Division III school in Greencastle, Ind.), Stevens worked at Butler's basketball camps for two summers when he was in college. He then began his coaching career as a director of basketball operations under Matta and moved up the staff's hierarchy step-by-step.

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