The Butler Way. After two straight national championship appearances, Butler proved that the right way can still win

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Charlie Browning
Cbrowning@hilite.org

Butler walked onto the court for the national championship expecting to win. For the first time ever in a high-profile game, most of the country expected them to win. But, just like last year, they didn’t. Instead, they laid a big, fat egg. They scored 41 total points and shot 18 percent from the field, which was the lowest by a team ever in the national championship. It wasn’t at all the way everyone expected it to happen. It didn’t happen like this in the movies. Everyone was expecting the Bulldogs to pull of one more miracle and put an end to this Hollywood movie once and for all. They couldn’t get all this way and fall short again. Not this time. Instead, the school that has so much cash that it doesn’t know what to do with it and impending recruiting violations came away with the trophy. What’s right about that? The answer: nothing, absolutely nothing.
But there is something special about what Butler did these last two years. It was beyond incredible. What happened last year was special, but it wasn’t implausible that a team like Butler make it to the national championship game once. But to make it twice in two years is almost unheard of, especially for a school that plays its games in a gym that is so old it might as well have been built by the Romans. All the more reason to write them off. At the beginning of the tournament, many of the basketball experts kept asking “Who will be the next Butler?” Well this year’s Butler was, in fact, Butler.
They proved that they truly belonged, and last year’s run wasn’t a complete fluke. Along the way, they have inspired many other small schools to dream big. Many of the college basketball experts believe that Butler’s Final Four opponent, Virginia Commonwealth, wouldn’t have even been in the Final Four this year had it not been for Butler’s run last year. Even some of the VCU players acknowledged that Butler’s run was inspiring to them and helped them believe that a small school such as theirs could make it to the big-time.
By proving that last year wasn’t at all a fluke, Head Coach Brad Stevens and his team proved that winning the right way is possible. They showed the entire college basketball world that the world doesn’t revolve around high-paid coaches and McDonald’s High School All-Americans. Not to say that teams like Kentucky, UConn, and Louisville don’t have good kids on their team, but it just isn’t the same. They don’t recruit players like Matt Howard. They don’t make their kids go to class on the day of the national championship. Butler does.
The way the Bulldogs operate has become such a methodical and correct way of doing things that it has coined the phrase the “Butler Way.” It’s a system that demands commitment, denies selfishness, and accepts reality, yet seeks constant improvement while promoting the good of the team above the individual. The Butler Way, which needs to expand quickly and become the “College Basketball Way.” Or maybe the “NCAA Way.” The landscape of college athletics in general has become so corrupt and money-driven that most coaches who try to do things the “right” way end up on the short end of the stick and are quickly dismissed from the university because of lack of success.
The landscape in college basketball today is so skewed that people no longer even notice it anymore. In this year’s final four, two of the four coaches had, in the past, been guilty of major recruiting violations that were supposed to cost them dearly. In reality though, Jim Calhoun of Connecticut and John Calipari of Kentucky didn’t change a bit when the NCAA found out what they had done. Instead, they just keep on cheating. And as a result, they just keep on winning.
Calipari, who has coached in three Final Fours including this year, has already had his other two appearances vacated because of cheating. Apparently, he didn’t learn the first time. And why should he change? It obviously didn’t hurt his coaching status, as he was back in the Final Four just a couple of years later. Both were a result of his players performing illegal acts against NCAA rules, with the second violation having nothing to do with Calipari himself. Still, those violations speak volumes about the types of players Calipari is recruiting. Calhoun, along with various other penalties, had already been suspended for the first three games of next year before the NCAA tournament even began for recruiting violations that happened under his watch. I would like to see the day when Brad Stevens commits a recruiting violation.
That’s why what Butler has done is so refreshing. A university, an athletics director, a head coach and a group of mostly small-town Indiana kids have shown the country that it can be done. I’m not one for moral victories, but there’s no getting around this one. It was special. And you don’t have to personally know any of the players or coaches to know that they are special. Just listen to Brad Stevens, Matt Howard, and Shelvin Mack do an interview. There’s nothing special about them. They are a humble, articulate and respectful group of men, albeit young men. But, then again, that’s what makes them so special. They stayed the course. They believed in each other. And they exemplified the “Butler Way,” both on and off the court.
They didn’t get the final result they were looking for, but then again, only one team in all of college basketball did. But on the way to their ultimate goal, they made something special happen. A small school with small-town players made it to the big-time. And they did it the right way. Or, to be a little more specific, the Butler Way.

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