Is Butler the Next Duke?

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Is Butler the Next Duke?
(Photo by Chris Graythem/Getty Images)

They play in an historic basketball venue. Their history stretches back to the 19th century. They are drenched in basketball tradition. Who does this describe? Duke or Butler?

Their coach is one of only three in NCAA history to win 30 games his first season on the bench.  He has a career winning percentage of over 80 percent. He was hired into his position at the ripe age of 31 with little fanfare. Who are you thinking of? Coach K or Brad Stevens?

If you guessed Butler and Brad Stevens, you are correct my friend. Does this mean Butler is the next Duke?

Not so fast. Don’t think I’m trying to put Butler or Brad Stevens on the same tier as the Blue Devils and their Hall of Fame coach. Not yet, anyway.

Duke has had tremendous basketball success, reaching back to the 1930s and 1940s when they dominated the former Southern Conference and were founding members of the ACC. This success was rejuvenated by Coach K in the 1980s through today.

They have reached cult status—loved and hated equally by the masses. Conference and national championships have been plentiful. Sure, these are mighty big shoes to fill.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Coach K started his tenure at Duke in less than stellar fashion. Look it up. The rest is history thanks to the school’s decision to stick with their coach for one more season. Duke basketball as we know it really began 29 years ago, when Coach K accepted the position.

Who is to say that, over the next 29 years, Butler can’t be the next Duke?

As universities, Butler and Duke are very similar. They are both academically elite. They are similar in size and demographic.

As basketball programs, they both play their own unique brand of basketball. Duke has made tremendous strides as a program since the early 1980s, and the record books can prove it. Butler is showing signs of becoming a Division One mainstay and has great potential.

Why can’t Butler be the next Duke?

That question I cannot answer. However, I can tell you how Butler can be the next Duke.

The key to this happening is Brad Stevens. Butler must retain Brad Stevens.

The dilemma is similar to the one Duke faced after the 1982-'83 season, in deciding to retain Coach K.

The problem for Butler is that a larger school will try to hire away Coach Stevens. An offer is bound to come soon. In 1997, Butler made its first NCAA tournament in 35 years under Barry Collier. They qualified three times in four years before Collier was wooed away by Nebraska.

Then began the coaching carousel. Thad Matta, one year. Xavier called. Todd Lickliter, five years. Say hello to Iowa. Now, Brad Stevens is one of the hottest young coaches in the game. It is only a matter of time.

The question at hand though: Is Butler the next Duke?

You might say that Butler already is Duke. From 30 years ago. When the Duke we know was in its infancy. When Coach K was cutting his teeth. But would that have happened to Duke if Coach K would have left?

What will happen to Butler if Coach Stevens leaves? I’m sure they’ll bring in someone else from the Butler family to maintain stability for a few years. But if that happens again, Butler will never be the next Duke.

I wonder if Brad Stevens can fight the temptation to leave for the big bucks. I wonder if athletic director Barry Collier can pony up a few more dollars to retain his talented coach.

If this happens, I truly believe Butler is the next Duke.  

I have an amazing amount of respect for Coach K and what he has done with the Duke program. I would love the opportunity, in 30 years, to be able to say the same thing regarding Coach Stevens and the Butler program.

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