Kenny Masenda will never pick Butler again (Facebook status from 3/19/2009).
Butler had just lost to LSU in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament, and I was mad as hell. My admiration for Butler started two years prior when they made the Sweet 16. The following year, they lost in the second round, and then, in 2009, they lost to an LSU team that I was certain they were better than. Not only was that the case, there was endless convincing (in my mind) that Butler was on their way to being the next mid-major to build a program and be a March Madness mainstay for years to come.
When they lost, emotion prevailed over logic, the aforementioned FB status was on my wall, and endless “LOLs," "I told you they weren’t that good,” “why did you have them making a run anyway,” and other contrarian statements invaded my profile.
Then, last season happened.
Here was Butler again, back in the dance, and they were making a serious run. However, scorn ruled over giving them their due. Pride ruled over common sense. Anger from disappointment past prevailed over letting stuff go. Hey, I am a sports fan after all; we never forget. Anyway, Butler made their run, continued to knock off team after team, made the National Championship, and were a half-court heave away from winning the whole damn thing.
It took that half-court miss to realize this is what I, along with fans who absolutely love college basketball, have been waiting on. There’s a harsh reality, in case people didn’t know: the college basketball game is not what it used to be. Sure, the tournament will always be the most captivating two-and-a-half weeks in all of sports, and championship week is pretty cool as well. Outside of that, it’s hard to say the enthusiasm is anywhere near high, if even moderate, from late-October up until late-February.
Players are leaving early to go to the NBA at a rapid clip, and the schools this is affecting the most are the traditional powerhouses; the ones with the most resources to land the best players in the country. Whether they can play or not isn’t even the point, when you have the despicable p-word (potential) following quite a few of their names, when it comes to their draft stock.
When they do that, it means the game is going to suffer, and that means that even powerhouses are going to suffer. Michigan State lost in the first round this year; Duke isn’t that far removed from being bounced in the first round. UNC, Pitt, Maryland, UCLA, and other powers have either gone home on the first weekend, or not made the tournament at all, in recent memory.
With that said, there’s something about seeing a program who is considered mid-major and not able to recruit the best players in the land, yet still find a way to build something special and make their way into becoming a power, and since they aren’t able to get those best players, they have all the opportunity in the world to carve their own path, build a program, and have sustained success.
That is what Butler is doing, and with that, of course, people say that means that Brad Stevens is going to leave for a “better” job that pays more money.
First off, “better” is a matter of opinion, and when you look at what the man has done in his four years (made the tournament each year, a Sweet 16, and consecutive Final Four appearances), it seems like he’s in a pretty good situation right now. There isn’t too much “better” than that.
Secondly, is there really a “better” job, and a “better” situation, than the one he’s in right now? Sure, there are some schools that will throw money at him, but with more money comes higher expectations, a shorter leash, and a fan base and alumni that, more than likely, overestimate their worth.
All Butler has to do is continue to take care of Stevens, and the probability of him leaving will remain low. It will never be zero, simply because you never know what opportunity will come one’s way. They gave him a 12-year contract last season and after this run, there’s no telling what they will do, but it's safe to say they’ll make sure to do whatever it takes. Sure, they can’t out-spend a powerhouse, but they can compensate him just fine.
I don’t know if Butler will win the national championship, but in a year where there really isn’t a true number one team in college basketball, why can’t Butler win it? You’ll be hard-pressed to find an objective college basketball fan, one who has followed the game all season, say that there is a team left that’s head and shoulders above the rest.
They are two games away from doing something that many people did not think was possible, and for that, college basketball is better for it. Hopefully, Brad Stevens continues to build something at Butler that Rick Majerus did at Utah, Gary Williams for Maryland, Mark Few with Gonzaga, Steve Fisher at San Diego State, and other coaches who continue to build, as opposed to going to a ready-made situation for more money, more resources, and everything that shines on the outside. All you can do is give credit to the Bulldogs, and use them as proof that when you do build, set-backs will occur, but if you stay the course, you can achieve the impossible.
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