Butler Basketball: Top 5 Fan Favorites of All Time

Joe BoozellContributor IIJuly 3, 2013

Butler Basketball: Top 5 Fan Favorites of All Time

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    Butler Basketball has a weird fanbase.

    Throw out all the scholarly terms you want, but when it comes down to it, one word describes it best—weird.

    No school takes greater pride in its basketball team. After all, there isn't a whole lot else to be consumed with in terms of Butler's other athletic teams, at least from a national standpoint.

    And yet, at various points in the last two years, there has been controversy on campus that the students themselves aren't attending as many games, as say—Indiana, Duke or any other prestigious program that comes to mind. Games are free for students, unlike at many other schools.

    There is one theory to explain the lack of correlation: Over the past few seasons, the team doesn't have as many "fan favorites" as it used to.

    Rotnei Clarke was a phenomenal player and an even better person. But while very popular, his one year of Butler eligibility prevented him from really reaching "rock star" status that butler icons have in the past.

    In the spirit of Erik Fromm's hair, here are the five biggest fan favorites in the history of Butler basketball.

5. Ronald Nored

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    In 2011, it was hard to walk five minutes on campus without seeing someone sporting a Butler No. 5 jersey.

    That says an awful lot, considering Nored only averaged 5.8 points per game for his career.

    Still, his importance to the team was unparalleled. He was an integral part of both of Butler's Final Four teams, often taking the toughest perimeter defensive assignment of the opposing team.

    And while the term "glue guy" is grossly overused to describe college basketball players that essentially do nothing of tangible worth on the court, if ever there was a "glue guy," it was Nored.

    For Christ's sake, the guy got hypnotized on stage in front of the entire school for freshman welcome week in the fall of 2011. Pandering to the crowd, much? Perhaps. But it always felt genuine with Nored, never forced. That can't be said about a lot of athletes.

    Charisma, toughness and selflessness. Ronald Nored was the quintessential fan favorite.

4. A.J. Graves

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    Much has been made about the Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard years of Butler basketball. And rightfully so.

    Butler probably would not have even been on those players' radars if it weren't for A.J. Graves.

    It's easy to get caught up in the hype of Butler's two Final Four teams. But it's also easy to forget that the best team Brad Stevens ever coached was arguably in his first year on the job, when A.J. Graves was team captain and unquestioned best player.

    In his senior year, the team lost four games. That's the lowest number by a Butler team in the last 80 years. 

    He exhibited all the same attributes as Nored: charisma, grit, toughness and an unwavering desire to win. The difference between him and Nored is that Graves could flat-out ball in every sense of the word. 

    His 1,807 points rank fourth on Butler's all-time list. A comparison to Graves' game would be the recent graduate Rotnei Clarke. Unfortunately for Clarke, playing only one season at Butler stifled his potential as a candidate for this list. 

    Graves also would have been higher on this list if he had the NCAA tournament success as many of the more recent players, but alas, A.J. was the catalyst of the most recent renaissance of the Butler basketball program. 

3. Tony Hinkle

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    Tony Hinkle did just about everything there was to do in his time at Butler except getting the stadium named after him.

    Oh, wait—he did that too.

    No man has made a bigger impact on Butler University than Tony Hinkle. Nicknamed "the Dean of Indiana College Basketball Coaches"—apparently nicknames weren't as catchy in those days)—Hinkle was a pioneer in the game of college basketball.

    But coaching one sport would have been to easy. In his 41 years at Butler, Hinkle compiled over 1,000 wins as the school's varsity basketball, football and baseball coach.

    It is hard to compare his status as a "fan favorite" with the likes of Brad Stevens, for example, but we're victims of the present. Still, Hinkle's accomplishments are unparalleled by any Butler coach—including Stevens.

    Perhaps his most impressive feat of all? At one point, he had a whopping 55 former players coaching basketball in the state of Indiana.

    Fitting as it may seem, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member is the inspiration behind the name Hinkle Fieldhouse, which is home to the classic film Hoosiers.

2. Matt Howard/Gordon Hayward

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    When Butler basketball was at its height of popularity, its two most popular players were Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard.

    True, Howard looked like he should have been staring alongside Jesse Eisenberg in a made-for-TV sci-fi flick. He also looked like he had no business competing in an arms race with the likes of Duke and Connecticut big men, yet he often found himself in those spots. And he usually thrived in them.

    He ranks third on the list of Butler's all-time leading scorers, and came just 61 points shy of reaching 2,000 for his career. If only he had been just a bit more selfish.

    But that wasn't Matt Howard.

    Howard, like Nored, epitomized "The Butler Way." Each team is sort of an island of misfit toys, the unit being far greater than the sum of its parts. But No. 54 may have been the most crucial of those parts.

    Hayward, on the other hand, probably would have topped this list if it hadn't been for leaving school after his sophomore season to become a lottery pick for the Utah Jazz (or if he hadn't sabotaged the national title game against Duke by missing that bunny in the waning seconds).

    Easy, easy. By "bunny," I mean a half-court attempt that had little to no business coming as close to being made as it was. Nostalgia is cold-hearted.

    Nevertheless, in a time when the Pacers are one of the best teams in the NBA and were a game away from the finals, Gordon Hayward's No. 20 Utah Jazz jersey is probably the most frequently seen NBA jersey on campus.

    His journey to Butler and eventually to the NBA also makes him a fun guy to root for. Coming out of Brownsburg High School in Brownsburg, Indiana, Hayward almost quit basketball to focus on tennis. Hayward was effective like many of Butler's players, but possessed a certain grace and smoothness that most Butler players lack.

    When familiarity is combined with a dash of novelty, it's usually a recipe for popularity.

1. Brad Stevens

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    There's a reason why Brad Stevens has turned down offers from the likes of Illinois and UCLA to stay at Butler.

    Though there might be a debate from all those pesky Tony Hinkle die-hards out there, he's on his way to becoming the iconic figure of Butler basketball.

    That's the beautiful part about college basketball from a coach's perspective. As we see in the NBA (*cough Erik Spoelstra*) most if not all the credit goes to the players, and the coaches seemingly ride their coat tails en route to success.

    Not in college basketball. The coaches get the credit where credit is due, seeing as how they can't coach the same player for more than four years, and rightfully so.

    Brad Stevens took over a team that was a serious threat to be playing basketball in March each year.

    Now they're serious threats to be playing in April.

    Guys want to be him; girls want to be with him. As you can see here, there have even been student dance parodies portraying the marketable Stevens (2:30).

    The strange thing is Stevens is only 36. That's part of the reason folks are so enamored with him, and also all the more reason that he hasn't even scratched the surface of his career goals.

    Brad Stevens, your former Division III point guard turned biggest fan favorite in Butler basketball history.