A carnival atmosphere on Butler campus

Butler coach Brad Stevens has an 88-14 mark since '07.
Butler coach Brad Stevens has an 88-14 mark since '07.
Posted: March 30, 2010

Brad Stevens hoped yesterday would mark the start of a relatively normal week devoted to getting his Butler basketball team ready to play its next game.

Uh-huh.

The Bulldogs are in the Final Four for the first time ever. Not since the 1972 UCLA Bruins has a team been on the NCAA's grandest stage in its own hometown, in this case, Indianapolis.

Normal? To Butler's fans, this is huge.

"I watched some film at home this morning, then tried to sneak in the back door at Hinkle," the Bulldogs' 33-year-old coach said, referring to the team's storied arena. "When I walked in, the lines were all the way around the building to get [Final Four] tickets, or be in line to just get a chance to get tickets.

"Obviously, it is unique. The campus is abuzz. I think that will settle down once ticket sales are done and we'll go from there. I told our guys, myself included, we're not going to focus on tickets or anything else after Monday. It's Michigan State - that's a daunting enough task."

More than 600 fans began lining up before dawn yesterday to purchase tickets. But the campus isn't the only thing that's abuzz since Butler (32-4) knocked out the top two seeds in the West Regional over the weekend and advanced to Indy against the seasoned Spartans.

The Bulldogs have captured the attention and adoration of college basketball fans nationwide, people that used to regard them as a plucky mid-major team capable of springing an upset once in a great while. Their current NCAA run includes wins over No. 1 seed Syracuse and No. 2 Kansas State, extending their winning streak to 24 games.

Of course, because they're an underdog based in Indiana and have 10 players from that state on their roster, they get compared to the mythical Hickory High School team of Hoosiers, a movie that, in fact, was filmed at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

But don't dwell on this to the players, particularly sophomore guard Ronald Nored, who has gotten more than his fill of the movie at his coach's summer basketball camp.

"For some reason, every week we go four weeks straight, four days, every day for every week - kids want to watch Hoosiers," Nored said after the Bulldogs beat Kansas State on Saturday. "It's the most annoying thing I've ever experienced in my life. I saw Hoosiers in July; that was the last time. I saw it - you do the math - 16 times-ish."

Stevens, who looks like he could still suit up with his players and not be out of place, has led the team to an impressive 88-14 record since taking over in 2007 from Todd Lickliter, whom he assisted for six seasons. He chose his current career path after working as a marketing associate at Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company, for one year following his graduation from DePauw University.

"Right now, it looks like a great idea," Stevens said of switching careers. "At the time, I just thought it was something that I wanted to try, really wanted to do."

He's doing all right. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, entering his sixth Final Four in the last 12 seasons, has noticed.

"I've been very impressed with Brad, with his team, how he's handled everything," Izzo said. "He seems like a very humble guy, a blue-collar guy with maybe a white-collar way of putting it. He's very articulate, to the point. He seems to have a great handle on this."

It's going to be a challenging week for Stevens and Butler. Players and coaches will be contacted by long-lost family members and friends they didn't know they had, looking for tickets to the games at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Through all the clamor, Stevens wants the Bulldogs to follow their usual routine. His players will shuttle from the downtown site of the Final Four to campus six miles away to attend classes Thursday and Friday. As of yesterday, he still hadn't decided whether players would remain on campus or move to the team's downtown hotel later in the week.

"Obviously, campus is a live environment right now," he said, "which is a great thing."

It couldn't be better.


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494

or jjuliano@phillynews.com.

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