When Butler University takes the floor Monday night, they will be playing in their second consecutive NCAA Men's Basketball Championship.
Few expected them to get this far again, but few bet against them because the Bulldogs have been defying the odds for about a decade. But the early exit of sophomore star Gordan Hayward to the NBA this season had many think they might not even get to the tournament.
Butler is far from being called a gateway to the NBA. Before Hayward, only three players in school history had any NBA or even ABA experience. Bob Evans was a fourth-round pick in 1950 that played one season, Ralph O'Brien was a sixth-round pick who played two years, and Billy Shepherd was an undrafted guard who played three years in the ABA.
Their most famous basketball alumni happened to be an inspiration in the "Hoosiers" movie that Butler was compared often to last year. Bobby Plump was Indiana's Mr. Basketball in 1954 and went on to be a two-time MVP for Butler. His high school coach, Marvin Wood, had played basketball for the Bulldogs a few years earlier.
Butler's coach now is Brad Stevens, the youngest ever to coach a team to two Final Fours. He also has the NCAA record for the most wins in his first three years. He has been tied into Butler since his days as a college athlete when Stevens taught at summer camps on the Butler campus.
Stevens took a job as an assistant with the Bulldogs a year out of college in 2000. He worked under Thad Matta, now the head coach at Ohio State University. When Matta left in 2001, Stevens worked under Todd Lickliter until Lickliter left to coach at the University of Iowa in 2007.
Since then, Stevens has run a program that has the admiration and respect of his peers. His teams are often called smart, tough, and well prepared. This mirrors their coach, who is calm, fierce, and studied.
The young coach could make a serious run at the legacy of Butler legend Tony Hinkle if he so desires. Hinkle coached at Butler for 41 years and win two national championships. Winkle was called "Dean of Indiana College Basketball Coaches" and is enshrined into several Hall of Fame's.
Since Butler last won their national championship in 1929, they have remained competitive for the most part as other schools grew in size and financial status. Despite being a small school of about 4,500 students, they have no problems trying to compete with the bigger schools in basketball because the sport in huge in the state of Indiana.
They face the University of Connecticut, a school that has 21,000 students. Despite being over four times larger than Butler, their athletic success didn't really start to blossom until Jim Calhoun was hired in 1986.
Of the 30 players who went from the school to the NBA, 23 played under Calhoun. He has also overseen two teams to national championship victories The woman's team won it all in 2004 with Calhoun's squad, becoming the first men's and women's basketball programs win the national title in the same year.
A key to this success is the aggressive recruiting of Calhoun, where he was able to lure players to a town with less than half of the population as the University itself. Able to procure talent for a school with little historic pedigree somehow.
How Calhoun has done this has been long scrutinized. While his supporters say it was Calhoun's past of bringing Northeastern University out of Division II to Division I after building a winning program. Critics say he built the program like many other schools with under the table actions.
It is the route of the NCAA today. With a committee willing to turn a blind eye if their pockets are sufficiently filled, schools compete for top talent today by offering cash, cars, sexual partners, or whatever the pursued desires.
The big money typically wins tournaments, which is why the underdog squads gets so much adoration from the press. These are schools who can only offer their players four years of free education, which is what an athletic scholarship is supposed to entail.
Those rules have been out the door for over 30 years, so the institutions left to compete this way truly define "old school" in the purest form. Though it is certainly conceivable a few smaller schools could sweeten the pot to entice, it typically is for talent the bigger schools have no interest in.
When 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush was discovered to have accepted monies that were "against the rules", the NCAA and several members of the media tried to feign surprise. Bush was stripped of his award even if many Heisman winners since at least the 1970's was given more than a scholarship.
While the University of Southern California was conveniently discovered to commit improprieties after years of their upper echelon success began to wane, they certainly are not the only school guilty and the Pete Carroll Era was not USC's only shady regime.
In men's basketball alone, schools like Kentucky, the University of North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, and any school that hired John Calipari have long been suspected of dirty pool. Watching a Calipari leave each school behind with infractions bring the question as to why the NCAA allows him to slither back into employment.
From this scribes personal standpoint, I had a friend long ago living in near poverty in a single parent household where the parent was unemployed. Dean Smith gave him a scholarship, a big wad of cash, a car, and his parent a job with the North Carolina government that somehow allowed the parent attend each game no matter where it was held.
This was several decades ago, but it certainly proved the theory of Smith running a dirty program to be true. His student, Roy Williams, has carried on those learning's his entire coaching career.
Schools like Butler cannot afford to even offer jobs, even if Steven's appearances on television last year increase enrollment by 67 percent this year. This novel idea of getting a free education as reward enough for playing may seem outdated, but it is a truer definition of amateur athletics,
The world of college athletics is changing to the point amateur status seems almost as ancient as the days of James Naismith nailing a pair of peach baskets to railings. When the U.S. Olympic basketball team eschewed the amateur baller for the pro athlete in 1982, the shark had been officially jumped.
So enjoy Butler University. Root them on too. They are amongst the last of a dying breed. A breed that will soon be extinct and long forgotten in the NCAA world.
The player who went to college for the free education, not the fee for playing a child's game. In between the nine minute commercial breaks, enjoy the athlete that no one heavily recruited try to stand up to a group of players a hundred schools tried to sign up.
No matter what the end result, Butler wins because they earned this doing it the right way. They didn't pay their way to this point. Seldom as it does happen, it would be good for evil to fall to this tiny college so the youth can learn every success is not driven by a fiscal bottom line.