The city of Indianapolis has witnessed the epitome of what makes the great game of basketball so unique from its hometown teams in the last 20 years.
They've watched gargantuan-sized centers with exceptional skill and dominance patrol the paint for their beloved Indiana Pacers and Butler Bulldogs.
Beginning with former Pacer great Rik Smits, the torch was then passed to current Pacer center Roy Hibbert. And while recent Butler graduate Andrew Smith’s play was often about as graceful as Nicholas Cage’s acting career, it would be foolish not to recognize that his presence will be missed on the front line next season.
This trend poses the question…who could be the next Butler big man?
There is one possibility. Meet Derrik Smits, the 6’10" junior-to-be at Zionsville High School and son of Rik Smits. The younger Smits received a scholarship offer from Butler after attending Butler's Elite Camp last week.
Is penciling Smits in to the 2015-2016 Butler starting lineup a tad premature? Absolutely, as a decision is far from being made by Derrik’s camp. But the scholarship offer itself and its mere timing pose a harsh reality for Butler’s newly dubbed Big East foes:
The Butler Bulldogs could be downright scary for the next 10 years.
No, it’s not because of the potential arrival of Smits. He simply serves as a microcosm of a change in recruiting approach that can propel Butler from a national contender to a powerhouse.
Butler already has a knack for finding diamonds in the rough. For example, Shelvin Mack, now of the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA, was a mere 2-star recruit coming out of high school, according to scout.com.
In the past, head coach Brad Stevens rarely offered a high school player a scholarship before they began their junior season. Famously, he nabbed Gordon Hayward the summer before his senior year of high school when he stood just 6’3" inches tall and was more heavily recruited as a tennis player than as a basketball player.
Combining the knack of finding the next under-recruited, high school try-hard with resources that potentially could lure blue-chippers to the Circle City is starting to become a real possibility for the Bulldogs, thanks to their leap of faith into the restructured Big East Conference.
To put things in perspective, Butler already has 11 more wins in the last five years than the next closest school (Creighton) that will enter the new Big East Conference next season. They are 14 ahead of Marquette in this category, 21 ahead of Xavier and 27 ahead of Villanova and Georgetown, according to sports-reference.com.
Clearly, they are no strangers to success.
However, they are strangers to a surplus of recruiting dollars.
According to an ESPN.com article immediately following Butler’s second national championship game appearance, their yearly recruiting budget was a touch under $60,000. Kentucky’s, by comparison, led the nation at $575,000. Most “power conference” schools, which Butler can now claim to be, were in the $200,000 range.
Brad Stevens helped make Alex Barlow one of the most feared defenders in the Atlantic 10 last year. Heck, he even makes the most ordinary of reading glasses look dynamite. There’s no telling what Stevens could do with a legitimate recruiting budget that will stem from being in a power conference with more revenue opportunities and TV exposure.
Derrik Smits, you might not be the savior. But everything your recruitment symbolizes and stands for should leave Bulldog faithful with a hopeful attitude for years to come.