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Growing pains will help Butler basketball program in long run


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The basketball team Brad Stevens coaches is 16 games under .500 with 28 regular-season games remaining. Scarcely more than an afterthought in the weakest division in professional sports.

Never has the Zionsville native looked so brilliant.

The unforgettable ride Stevens engineered for Butler University, its fan base and local bandwagon-jumpers everywhere — you know who you are — elevated him to hoops legend in a state where first names are immediately recognized.

Oscar. George. Two Bobbys. Larry. Steve. Damon.

And now Brad.

Which brings us to the 2013-14 Bulldogs, who are 12-13 overall and occupying the 10th and final spot in the standings of the new-look Big East Conference.

First-year coach Brandon Miller now knows what it’s like taking the stage after Sinatra.

In the long run, Miller and the program he leads will be better for it. Time, patience and consistency in recruiting are required to help Butler adapt to the drastic competition upgrade.

Lest you forget, the Bulldogs were in the Horizon League only two years ago. And Cleveland State isn’t Villanova any more than Detroit is Georgetown, Xavier, Marquette or Creighton.

Lost in the Dogs’ very un-

Butler-like 2-11 conference ledger is that seven losses have been by nine or fewer points; Butler’s first six Big East games included a total of five overtime periods.

Naturally, some of the program’s fans are grumbling, which is to be expected considering how spoiled they’ve been in recent times.

Unforgettable rides to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011 didn’t simply raise the bar. It javelin tossed it out of one of Hinkle Fieldhouse’s charmingly ancient windows where it landed in the building’s south parking lot.

What Stevens accomplished with the Bulldogs was amazing. It made him a hot coaching prospect for the rest of his days; and, barring incredibly poor financial advice, he’ll grow old a wealthy man.

But the one thing Stevens never did was coach the Big East version of Butler basketball.

Nowhere is there proof he, Thad Matta or any other of Miller’s predecessors on the Butler bench would have fared better.

The Stevens Era gave Butler hoops the strength to kick down doors to leagues that 10 years ago might not have given the program a second look.

The Atlantic 10 in 2012-13; the Big East now and into the future.

Miller and the Bulldogs are paying the price for entrance into the big time. But with only two seniors on the roster (forwards Khyle Marshall and Erik Fromm) and a pair of 6-foot-6 wide-bodies (Kelan Martin and Tyler Wideman) coming in, Butler should be just fine.

So before we tearfully write the obituary for Bulldogs basketball just because Stevens yearned for a new challenge, it’s important to remember the program isn’t dying on the vine. It’s just regaining its footing.

As old blue eyes himself might say, give Miller time to do it his way.

Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. Send comments to mbeas@dailyjournal.net.

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