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Even with a new coach and a few new starters, Butler should be just fine

September 18, 2017 Columns No Comments

In the NFL, the last decade and a half has been marked by The Patriot Way with the New England Patriots’ great success. In college basketball, we have an analog of sorts: The Butler Way.

It’s entirely because of it that you can enter pretty much any season and figure that the Bulldogs will be just fine. How else do you explain the way the program has overcome the seemingly constant adversity they have faced over about the past decade?

Some of the adversity has been of the sort that would appear to have no direct impact on the product on the court. Notably, two former players had untimely deaths about seven months apart, as Andrew Smith succumbed to cancer at age 25 in January 2016 and Joel Cornette died suddenly at age 35 from a heart condition. Smith’s fight against cancer was well-chronicled before his passing. And just weeks after Smith’s passing, assistant coach Emerson Kampen lost his son to a rare neurological disorder at just six months of age.

But there has been plenty that has affected them directly, especially since they made consecutive runs to the national championship game under Brad Stevens. It started with Stevens doing what was thought to be unthinkable: leaving for an NBA job, specifically to become head coach of the Boston Celtics in 2013. Roosevelt Jones had to redshirt the 2013-14 season after tearing ligaments in his wrist during an overseas trip. Brandon Miller, an alum who took over the program after Stevens left, took a medical leave of absence during that season and has never been heard from since. Chris Holtmann took over and guided them to three big years, leaving for Ohio State back in June.

Though the program had a tough season in 2013-14 – the first one after Stevens left, with two key starters lost and then Jones out for the year – by and large Butler has navigated the gradual move from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 and Big East in a relatively smooth fashion. They made the NCAA Tournament in their only season in the Atlantic 10 and have done so in all but their first Big East season.

With Holtmann off to Columbus, another member of the Butler family is now leading the way in LaVall Jordan. His head coaching record – 11-24 in his lone season at Mikwaukee, though they made a run to the Horizon League championship game – won’t wow anyone, but Jordan played at Butler and started his college coaching career there, and that matters. A lot, actually.

He knows The Butler Way.

This year’s team will have more that is new than just who is leading the way on the bench, as two starters are gone from last season’s team, as well as others who started at least ten games. Andrew Chrabascz was the only player on the team to start all 34 games last season and did it all, as he was second on the team in scoring and assists and third in rebounding. Avery Woodson, Tyler Lewis and Kethan Savage along with Chrabascz will be tough to replace.

There is plenty to build around on this team, though, starting with senior Kelan Martin, who led the team in scoring and rebounding. He will team with Tyler Wideman to anchor the frontcourt, while Kamar Baldwin started 24 games as a freshman last season on the perimeter. They lead the holdovers, though Nate Fowler gives them some experience in the middle, as the 6’10” junior big man averaged nearly 12 minutes a game and appeared in every contest last year.

The newcomers will have to perform on the court for the Bulldogs to be back in the NCAA Tournament again this season, and as usual, there is some good talent there along with intangibles. Christian David was part of a prep championship team in a very competitive league and is known for his basketball I.Q., while Aaron Thompson played in a winning program in perhaps the most competitive high school league in the country and could play a big role right away. Jerald Gillens-Butler will be interesting to work in as a power wing and won a state title as a senior, while Cooper Neese and Connor Fulton should see minutes on the perimeter as well.

As is usually the case, this team will be challenged in the non-conference schedule, which means we’ll find out about the newcomers quickly. They open with a pair of home games against improving Kennesaw State and Ivy League contender Princeton, go to Maryland as part of the Gavitt Tip-Off Games, then play in the PK80 event against Southern contender Furman before opening in Portland with Texas and then facing either Duke or Portland State in the second game. Three straight home games follow, highlighted by a visit from Utah, then they take on Purdue in the Crossroads Classic before finishing up with Morehead State and Western Illinois at home.

Big East play will start with a trip to rebuilding Georgetown, then they get an early test as Villanova comes to town before the calendar turns over to 2018. There isn’t what might at first appear to be a brutal road stretch in conference play, but they start February with five of six at home, though the only road game is at Villanova.

There are certainly some questions with this team. The departed players had a lot of winning experience, and they overcame adversity from their tough first season in the Big East. There’s a new coach running the show, familiar though he may be. Still, there is reason to think past will be prologue to at least some degree, and The Butler Way will ensure that this team is all right.

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