Tony? Tony Hinkle?
Hey, Hink, it’s me again. Trust you’re still loving Paradise, even more so now that you have been joined by a guy you once coached at Butler University, Herb Schwomeyer; another old pal, Tom Carnegie; and the coach who succeeded you, George Theofanis.
My gosh, Johnny Wooden is there, too, Hink. I can only imagine the conversations.
Don’t know if you recall, Hink, but I called out, er, up, to you a year ago at this time when Butler came within a whisker of winning the NCAA championship in Indy’s Lucas Oil Stadium, just a few miles from the fieldhouse that bears your name on the Butler campus.
Well, I have news for you, Hink. I’ll be darned if Butler didn’t reach the championship game again.
Stop spinning, Hink. It’s true.
Yeah, they lost “Brownsburg,” which is what you would have called Gordon Heyward, since you referred to players not by their names, but by their hometowns. He went to the NBA after his sophomore year.
But while Brownsburg left, they still had Connersville, that shaggy-haired kid named Matt Howard. And they still have their coach, Brad Stevens, who preaches the tenets of The Butler Way that you passed along to then-coach and now Athletics Director Barry Collier, who has made it a staple of the Butler program for those who have succeeded him.
No, Hink, Stevens did not leave for the bags full of Nike money that the University of Oregon would have thrown his way last year. Matter of fact, Collier signed him to a 12-year contract. I can’t say he’ll be there for a half-century, like you were, but Stevens says it’s not about the money. It’s about the people and the place. He says Butler is special.
That’s right, Hink. He reminds me a lot of you. Says the best part of his job is that he has a key to the fieldhouse and that he can recruit high-character kids who are every bit as much students as they are athletes.
Anyway, if you thought the coaching job he did a year ago was amazing, well, this one was off the charts. At one time, Hink, the Dawgs were only 14-9 overall and just 6-5 in their league. All the sportswriters and talking heads pretty much wrote them off as a one-hit wonder.
All they did then was win 14 straight and get back to that championship game. Oh, and just like last year, they knocked off some of the big boys along the way … Pittsburgh from the Big East, Florida from the SEC, Wisconsin from the Big Ten.
Sure, they had a little divine intervention along the way and a few times I wondered if you and The Man Upstairs had a hand in it.
In one game, Hink, Stevens called in a skinny freshman who had barely played a lick, Crishawn Hopkins (you probably would have called him “Manual,” because that’s where he went to high school). Anyway, Hink, Hopkins immediately had a big assist and a three-point bucket. Turned the game around is what he did.
And Connersville, er, Howard, just made play after play, most of them the byproduct of nothing more than extra effort. You’d love this kid, Hink. Eighth of 10 kids. Son of a mailman. Polite, sincere, humble. And oh, by the way, he was named the top student in all of Division I basketball.
They also had a kid named Shelvin Mack and, Hink, during that winning streak, he turned into a modern-day Buckshot O’Brien. Just kept taking—and making—fearless shots whenever they needed them.
Like your teams, Hink, this was a collection of selfless, sacrificial guys. Whatever it took. Their little guard, Ronald Nored, accepted a role going from starter to coming off the bench. That also was critical in the turnaround. Guys just lifted one another up, time and again.
No, they didn’t win the championship, Hink. Remember how you used to turn to Carnegie during State Finals telecasts and say, with profound simplicity, “The team that puts the ball in the basket the most is going to win the game”?
Well, in that championship game, the Bulldogs couldn’t hit the ocean from the beach. So the other guys hoisted the trophy.
But that doesn’t diminish the achievement, Hink. They took us all for another unbelievable joy ride and again—for all the right reasons—elevated Butler in the eyes of the nation.
The best thing I can say about them, Hink, is that you would be proud of them. So would Wooden, Schwomeyer, Carnegie and Theo.•
Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at [email protected] He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.