Twenty national championship games have been played since 1990, and twenty times the big boys have won. Until Butler’s magical run to the Finals last season, a mid-major hadn’t even sniffed an appearance in the championship game since two decades ago, when the famed UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, led by the outspoken Jerry Tarkanian, thrashed Duke in a way nobody imagined.
So how does a darling like Butler overcome losing its’ top player and a sluggish start to the season? By returning to the scene of the crime one more time, this time intent on winning. That’s overcoming adversity.
Though ask any analyst or casual fan, and the term “adversity” is being thrown around to describe their counterparts, the UConn Huskies. Adversity over not being ranked to begin the season (Butler was ranked 21st), adversity in losing four of five to end the regular season, adversity in the countless recruiting violations brought upon the program and Coach Jim Calhoun.
But should a team be rewarded for overcoming adversity it brought upon itself? Should you be rewarded for cleaning up milk you spilt? No, which makes the role reversal in tonight’s game all the more shocking.
USA Today reports that Calhoun said, “I've said before that I took full responsibility as the head coach, for anything that happened within our program,” when questioned about the ongoing Nate Miles situation. “So, therefore, I accept that responsibility. I said my own personal and private thoughts would be kept personal and private.”
Who Will You Be Cheering for tonight?
Miles was a former player for Calhoun and the Huskies, a four-star shooting guard who would be a junior on this team, and could have been a major weapon. Instead, he’s been expelled from UConn, and is currently telling his story as another athlete who received improper benefits that he claimed Jim Calhoun knew all about.
“I don't have a thought about it because right now I'm thinking about Butler,” explained Calhoun, who would rather be asked about how teams will try to shut down his current star guard Kemba Walker than hear the name “Nate Miles.”
Too bad—that’s not how adversity works.
Take a look at Butler’s roster—not one single 5-star recruit. UConn has three, one of which is Walker, who if not for Jimmer Fredette’s incredible season, would be a slam-dunk for national player of the year.
If that's not enough, look at the NBA. Four players have ever made the NBA or ABA after attending Butler. None played more than three seasons, none scored more than 1,000 career points, or was anything more than a name on a stat sheet. Gordon Hayward is the only current player from Butler in the NBA, and he's currently averaging 4.5 points per game, while struggling to find playing time with the Utah Jazz.
UConn's pedigree in the NBA? They've sent 30 players to the big-time, including All-Stars such as Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton and Rudy Gay. Seventeen of their players have scored at least 1,000 points, and eleven are currently active in the NBA.
UConn has tens of millions of dollars to recruit with, a state-funded school with an endowment of over $250 million dollars, and nearly 30,000 students. Butler has an endowment half the size, with a student population of just over 8,000. They don’t play in an arena, they play in a fieldhouse built in 1928, one most famous for its role in the movie, “Hoosiers.”
So when Butler takes the court on Monday night, to again attempt to win one for the little guys, they will be the only team overcoming any sort of real adversity, attempting to leave any sort of legacy. Not that senior forward Matt Howard has stopped to notice.
“You know, I don't think that's something that we need to worry about right now. Hopefully we're focused on the task at hand. All that takes care of itself. That's essentially the way I'm approaching it. I think the rest of the guys are doing that as well.”
And that’s the Butler way.
The famous Persian poet Sa’di once said “A man is insensible to the relish of prosperity 'til he has tasted adversity.” Butler has tasted their adversity. They’re now out for their relish of prosperity.