In the aftermath of one of the best feel-good weeks in our city’s history—the arrival of the NCAA Men’s
Final Four with the Butler University Bulldogs in tow—this is who and what I feel good for:
First and foremost, Brad Stevens. Rarely has someone so suddenly thrust into the national spotlight handled himself and represented his employer so well. I need to check with his parents to see if, as a baby, he refused a rattle.
Willie Veasley, Avery Jukes and Nick Rodgers. The Butler seniors were part of a record-setting 118 victories in careers that ended on the biggest stage in intercollegiate athletics. That’s not laying a foundation. That’s building a skyscraper.
Gordon Hayward. Now America has seen.
Barry Collier. The Butler alum perpetuated The Butler Way as coach, then returned home as athletic director to make certain it would be sustained.
Butler President Bobby Fong. It will be difficult to forget the site of Fong joyously body surfing a human wave with his fate literally in the hands of Butler students.
Jim McGrath. Butler’s longtime sports information director usually spends his early Aprils preparing releases on women’s softball.
Joe Gentry. Simply one of the nicest people around, Gentry—a Butler alum and the team’s radio voice—got to make the call no one thought they’d ever hear: “Butler is going to play for the national championship.”
Matt White, the 1989 Butler grad and former runner who is in the 10th year of battling Lou Gehrig’s disease. With an army of friends supporting White and his amazing wife, Shartrina, he made it to Indy from his Florida home and provided inspiration to the Bulldogs on the day before their victory over Michigan State.
Blue II. Every dog does indeed have his day.
My pal—OK, everybody’s pal—Bobby Plump. He entertained dozens of media and became the sidebar story du jour. Ever since he hit that jump shot 56 years ago, Plump hasn’t met a moment he couldn’t embrace.
“Hoosiers” script writer Angelo Pizzo. Once again, America was reminded why it’s the best sports movie ever.
Susan Baughman. The senior vice president of events for Indiana Sports Corp., Baughman also serves as executive director of the Men’s Final Four. From the local organizing standpoint, the ultimate responsibility ends up on her desk. She (along with her ISC teammates) handled it with poise, aplomb and tireless dedication.
Greg Shaheen. The local boy who saw his first Final Four as a teen-ager at Market Square Arena is now the NCAA chief running the show. He has a lot of people telling him how to do his job, including me (Greg, please put the kibosh on tournament expansion) but, believe me, you’d need a lot of leather to walk a mile in his shoes.
Commissioner Jon LeCrone and the staff at the Horizon League. Not long before the arrival of the Final Four, LeCrone had a neon “Horizon League” sign installed on the facade of its offices in Pan Am Plaza, facing Lucas Oil Stadium. Prescient. Butler’s run also brought illumination to the HL. If the likable LeCrone died tomorrow, the mortician’s biggest challenge would be wiping the smile off his face.
David Woods. The Star’s prolific Butler basketball beat writer took the ride of his newsprint life and continued to provide the definitive, go-to coverage even as other journos jumped on the bandwagon.
The Local Organizing Committee. Several of them rarely ventured from the “control center” in the Westin Hotel and never saw a basketball bounce. But they were at the heart of the Indianapolis effort.
The volunteers. They greeted passengers at the airport and hotels. They worked Bracket Town and the Big Dance. They passed out T-shirts and basketballs at the Final Four dribble. We wouldn’t—couldn’t—be what we are as a host city without them.
The city. Our passion for basketball was reinforced, not just during the Final Four, but going back to March 1. Including high school, college and professional games, downtown drew an astounding 451,152 spectators to 42 games in 35 days.
And, oh, that weather.
What a time in our city, when we got to play both host and participant. I’ve never been so proud.•
Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.