Butler Basketball: 5 Lessons Learned About the Bulldogs This Offseason
Butler basketball is evolving before our very eyes.
And yet, the more things seem to change for a Bulldogs program that already seems to be a well-oiled victory machine, the more they stay the same.
While the NBA is often referred to as a “player’s game,” college basketball is undoubtedly a coach’s game. And Butler has one of the game’s best—Indiana native Brad Stevens.
After a report last offseason that linked his services to Illinois was followed by an offer Stevens turned down to UCLA, the much-coveted 36-year-old gave Butler fans reassurance that he’ll stay in Indianapolis for a very, very long time.
However, Stevens’ admirable loyalty is not the only headline the Bulldogs have made this offseason.
The sweat is accumulating by the minute in the ever-so-humid Hinkle Fieldhouse gymnasiums (more on that later), summer coaching camps are in full swing and the 2013-2014 campaign in a new conference with new expectations is right around the corner.
Hey, it’s not like it has major shoes to fill on the heels of the 2012-2013 season, right? (Perhaps Roosevelt Jones and Rotnei Clarke beg to differ.)
Here are five lessons to be taken away from what has been the Butler basketball offseason to date.
Stevens' Longevity at Butler
First and foremost, Brad Stevens is returning to Butler University.
Butler may not have a religious affiliation like many of its new conference foes, but I think I speak for the Butler student population when I say, hallelujah.
Stevens is under contract with Butler through the 2021-22 season. Let’s just hope one day that contract simply reads “life.”
However, his services are highly sought after. After Illinois failed to woo him a year ago, Stevens' most recent temptation came at the hands of the glitz and glamor of UCLA. Given the chance to be John Wooden 2.0...he turned it down for cornfields.
Stevens reportedly makes around $1 million per season. It's a far cry from former UCLA head coach Ben Howland’s $2.3 million figure, according to an ESPN story reporting UCLA’s interest in Stevens.
The implications of this for Butler?
Well, not to point out the obvious...but if he turned down an estimated double in salary increase, a very talented roster in the city of Los Angeles, weather that isn’t bipolar and a guarantee to make an appearance on the next season of The Bachelor (okay, I made the last one up, but couldn’t you see it?)...what could possibly lure him away from Indianapolis?
The answer? Probably nothing.
Some have speculated that Indiana would be the only potential job that would interest Stevens. It’s impossible to tell at this point, but Tom Crean does not appear to be leaving Bloomington any time soon considering the juggernaut he’s built.
With all of that said, the man most important to Butler basketball gave everyone a reason to breathe a big sigh of relief. We learned this offseason that Stevens will hopefully be the Butler basketball coach until he's getting fitted for championship rings on his toes.
It would be nice to win one first. Alas, Brad Stevens remains a Butler Bulldog.
Rene Castro Might Need to Be the Next Shelvin Mack
With the coach in place, the extension of the coach on the floor is a very important issue that Butler quickly needs to address.
It has proved to be a focal point of Butler’s offense in the last few years.
Shelvin Mack led the team to back-to-back national title game appearances, and Rotnei Clarke made fans wish he was a Bulldog from the start instead of an Arkansas Razorback. The year between these two players proved to be a struggle, as Butler won just 22 games.
Butler has a plethora of point guards on its roster. The problem? All of them have a plethora of question marks.
Jackson Aldridge seemed likely to assume that role around this point of his career for Butler. But after being passed up on the depth chart by walk-on Alex Barlow, it’s hard not to call the Aussie charmer’s collegiate career a bust so far.
And as great as Barlow’s defense, tenacity and unspoken “Rudy factor” he brings to each game are, he’s simply not the shot-creator Butler’s offense needs in order to succeed. That guy could be sharpshooter Kellen Dunham, but at this point, his offensive game is one-dimensional.
Which is why the signing of Castro could be the jewel of the incoming freshmen class.
The following are a few notes in the 6’2" New England product’s ESPN recruiting profile (subscription required):
A playmaking guard who can score the ball in a variety of different ways, Castro is a combo-guard with an aggressive mindset. He loves to shake his defender with an inside-out dribble and is capable of going by to either side and either taking it to the rim or pulling up in the mid-range area. He has great speed with the ball in his hands in the open court and can instantaneously create tempo.
Castro is a scoring combo-guard who can put the ball in the basket in a number of ways. If he can develop into more of a true point guard and learn to run the team while picking his spots more effectively his stock will only continue to rise.
Shelvin Mack didn’t even have notes in his ESPN recruiting profile coming out of high school.
Nevertheless, putting such lofty expectations on Castro to be the next Mack could prove to be just that, extremely lofty.
The unfortunate reality for the 2013-14 Bulldogs, however, points to Castro as a likely candidate to assume the vital role of “shot-creator.”
Everything About Butler Basketball Is Expanding
As I discussed at length here, Butler’s recruiting style is bound to change with its leap of faith to the Big East.
Along with Derrik Smits, recruiting class of 2015 forward Nate Fowler also received an offer from Butler after attending the Bulldog Elite Camp in early June.
Both offers are fairly unprecedented from Stevens and his coaching staff and are a likely sign of things to come as it relates to his recruiting tactics in the future.
However, recruiting is not the only aspect of Butler’s program that is feeling the effects of an increased budget and a new conference. The historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in currently in the process of being renovated, a $34 million project that should be finished in 2014-15.
While Butler students will be thankful that the secondary gym in Hinkle, the West Gym, will no longer feel like the sauna in the nearby recreation center, an improved basketball venue that exudes pride and tradition (if you’re like me, you may want to dust off the VCR and watch Hoosiers upon reading this) should improve all aspects of the Butler basketball program.
Unfortunately, with increased exposure and facilities come an increase in season ticket prices. According to an Indy Star article, season ticket prices are up as much as 10 percent for the upcoming season.
Still, if you’re a Butler basketball fan, what’s not to be excited about? Watching the 'Dawgs battle the likes of Villanova, Georgetown and Marquette in late February ought to be worth every penny.
The Butler Bubble Has Burst
We see it all over college basketball.
Those annoying “coaching trees.” Bob Knight has Coach K and too many others to count running programs around the country.
Brad Stevens finally has his first.
Matthew Graves, the former Butler player who spent nine seasons as an assistant coach (he was elevated to associate head coach in 2010) is now the head coach at South Alabama.
As Butler continues to experience success and rack up the NCAA tournament wins, Stevens should soon have a list of disciples influencing the college basketball ranks.
The term “Butler bubble” refers to the notion of Butler’s campus being a peaceful, somewhat isolated place in which no one can quite begin to fathom it except those who are in it.
And with the departure of Graves and many others likely to follow due to the increased exposure and success, from a basketball standpoint—that bubble is about to burst.
Butler Has Regained Respect of the Media
In a recent article released by Basketball Predictions, Butler was predicted to finish fourth in the new Big East Conference.
While it may sound modest, it signifies a level of respect Butler has gained over the last five years simply based on its reputation. The Sporting News predicted Butler to finish fourth last year in a weaker conference, with a much more proven roster.
While those close to the program have every reason to believe Brad Stevens will ultimately find a way no matter what his personnel is, the fact is, the 'Dawgs have some serious question marks going into the 2013-14 season.
The point guard and center positions are up in the air. Their bench doesn’t have much fire power returning. And while they have found success in hidden recruiting gems in the past, they certainly don’t have any headliners in the class of 2017.
Yet none of that seems to matter. Analysts know better than to underestimate Butler.
While thriving off of the under”dawg” role for years, Butler will now have to deal with the challenge of having a constant target on its back—a concept that is somewhat foreign to the team.
Call me crazy, but something tells me Brad Stevens will have his troops firing on all cylinders in 2013-14.