Butler goes down its way – College Basketball

HOUSTON – Shawn Vanzant sat in the corner of the Butler locker room, sobbing, his teammates said, at an almost uncontrollable level. Next to him was Matt Howard, a towel draped over his head, the tears coming just as hard.

Together, the two seniors had shot 3 for 23, an absolutely abysmal, crushing performance in the biggest game of their lives. Connecticut was outside clipping the national championship nets. In here it was just hell, the aftermath of a great team gone bad – 12-of-64 shooting, a record-low 18.8 percent from the floor, losing 53-41, the fewest total points in a title game since the shot clock was invented.

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Matt Howard and his teammates were left heartbroken in the locker room.
(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Vanzant thought it was his fault. Howard felt no better.

And that’s when Ronald Nored, eyes red and tear-filled as well, noticed his teammates, got up, crossed the locker room and reminded everyone what this entire pursuit is about.

He pulled Shawn Vanzant up off his stool and hugged his friend, physically and emotionally attempting to lift him out of his depression.

After a few seconds, Nored stepped over to Howard and did the same. And soon enough, his teammates followed. One after the other, from the freshmen to the managers, from the benchwarmers to the starters, every last Butler Bulldog was taking a moment to remind each other, particularly those bottomed-out seniors, that this was about a lot more than some basketball game.

“It [was] hard for me to watch; it’s hard for me to talk about,” coach Brad Stevens said of the scene, his voice catching and his eyes watering behind his glasses.

“But it’s the best part of the story.”

The story of Butler, the one that’s captured underdog hearts for two consecutive NCAA tournaments, was always about a group finding a way to be better than its individual parts. The Bulldogs were a family, they said. They were a brotherhood, they reminded. They believed they could reach back-to-back NCAA title games when there was no logical reason to think such a thing was possible.

This is what all kinds of teams say, of course. And it’s easy to be a family when the shots are falling and victories are piling up and you’re shocking the world night after night. It’s another when you take the grandest stage in college basketball and proceed to experience a failure of historic proportions.

Butler hit just 3 of 31 shots inside the arc. It made just six baskets in each half. At one point, the Bulldogs missed 13 in a row. They clanked open shots and blew gimmes they make in their sleep. As much credit as the long-armed Huskies’ defense deserves, in the back of every Bulldogs’ mind was the thought that they gave this away by playing the worst game of their lives at the worst possible moment.

“All the people who played in the game think they let us down,” Stevens said. “And that’s ridiculous.”

That’s also when everything gets tested. Butler blew it and that’s when fingers tend to get pointed and playing time gets questioned and selfishness can rise up. If only he had made that lay-up. If only he had knocked down that open jumper.

“It’s very easy to just think about yourself and be frustrated in the situation,” Howard said.

Instead, the Bulldogs showed all the talk was real. They did it one hug after the next. One whispered “I love you” after another. One pat on the back and look into the eye and honest bit of concern. The harder some cried, the harder the rest worked to ease the pain.

Stevens stood in that locker room, took it all in and saw the kind of miracle for which coaches strive – collective support in the lowest and rawest of moments. Kids caring about kids. Perspective and purpose on display. It may not get you a clipped net, but that’s some kind of championship in itself.

“Hard, hard to put into words,” Stevens said, his voice trailing a bit.

“It’s probably the great thing about sports,” assistant coach Matthew Graves said.

Nored said he never hesitated. Once he noticed Vanzant in such a state, the game didn’t matter. Only his friend did.

Shelvin Mack and the Bulldogs struggled for open looks and misfired when they got them.
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

“That’s what we’re here for, we’re here for each other,” Nored said. “In the big picture, who really cares about basketball? It’s about the guys in this locker room. I wanted Shawn to know we don’t really care that his shot didn’t go in; we care about him.”

Howard, just a half-hour later, could only marvel at the entire thing. Butler had come to win the title on Monday, but when he gathered the team pregame in the tunnel, he told everyone to forget what was at stake.

“Don’t think about the national championship,” he shouted. “This is our last time playing together.”

With that, the Bulldogs broke huddle and sprinted out into the dome.

A couple hours later, his message meant more than ever. The national championship was gone. The appreciation of playing together was not. He couldn’t hide under that towel after the game. His teammates wouldn’t let him.

“[They] come over and give you a hug and tell [you] how much [they] love [you] and appreciate [you] and that is what this team is about,” Howard said. “It’s really uplifting because no matter the result, they want to be a part of this team and that is all that’s on their mind. They want to pick you up.

“It’s a special group. That’s the only reason we’ve been able to do what we have.”

They talk a lot about the “Butler Way” around here, although no one has a specific definition of it. Mostly it’s about being selfless, not caring who gets the points or the headlines or the accolades. Here on the night of a bitter, bitter defeat, Brad Stevens was reminded it can mean a whole lot more than that.

“You know if someone has to go 12 of 64 and lose that game and do it that way,” he said, “these guys have the character to handle that.”

The game had been a nightmare. The embarrassment of all those misses will linger. The frustration of so many good players failing to make simple shots will haunt them.

But it won’t happen alone. Not with these guys. Not after Ronald Nored hugged Shawn Vanzant in the corner of that locker room and just wouldn’t let go.



About rictandag

http://about.me/rictandag http://LVHelpGro.net @rictandag @LVHelpGro Returned U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Tandag, Surigao del Sur, Republic of the Philippines 1979-1980; Financial Management training Program [FMP], G.E., Appliance Park, Louisville, Kentucky 1981-1982 Champion [two days] Jeopardy 1986 Attorney, Los Angeles, CA 1989-1995 Disabiility Rights Attorney, www.NDALC.org, Las Vegas 1998-1999 Immigration Asylum Attorney, throughout the State of Kansas 1999-2001 Supply Logistics Specialist, UPS Las Vegas, 2006- present http://www.ups-scs.com [business] http://InternationalAidAdvocate.com http://rictandag.tumblr.com/ http://www.facebook.com/rick.passo http://www.linkedin.com/in/rickpasso http://www.twitter.com/rictandag http://paper.li/rictandag http://rictandag.i.ph/blogs/rictandag/ http://ricktandagvegas.blogspot.com/ https://rictandag.wordpress.com/ advocate for: http://www.gk1world.com [Gawad Kalinga, tagalog for "to give care"] http://www.jacintoandlirio.com http://www.civitan.net/diverse http://www.Rags2Riches.ph
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2 Responses to Butler goes down its way – College Basketball

  1. Rick Darragh says:

    Let me start by saying that my son is Matt Howard’s roommate, so I am pretty close to this particular situation. I also played at Butler some 30 years ago, when the “Butler Way” was not near as prevalent in the locker room. This was as fine an article as I have ever read !!!!! This IS what athletics should be all about, but very seldom is. This is why a team like Butler can beat a team like Pitt, Florida, Syracuse,etc. Thank you for taking the time to share this part of the game. It goes unnoticed to most, but you have done what you can to bring it to the light for all to see and share.

    • rictandag says:

      Rick, I am absolutely thrilled to hear from someone so close to the Bulldogs! I am sorry that it has taken so very long for me to reply to your very kind note.

      Of course, I did not write this article, I only reposted it. So, your compliments, if they have not already, need to go to the author.

      But, here is my connection to the Bulldogs, besides my Indianapolis roots. My father graduated from the Butler University School of Pharmacy about 75 years ago, at a time when there was much antisemitism in Indiana and at a time when all the professional schools at the public Indiana University were effectively closed to all Jews. Not only did my father graduate from BU but so did my two uncles and a number of close relatives, who all resided on the near Southside of Indianapolis.

      For a number of decades, Passos Drugs was located down McCarty street a few blocks from the international headquarters of Eli Lilly, literally next door to Shapiros Deli on S. Meridian St. [at 802 S. Meridian, the corner of Meridian and McCarty streets].

      Although I went “out of state” to college, I will always be a strong supporter of the Methodist school which broke down the barriers of discrimination suffered not only by the Jews but also by the Blacks and other persons of colors in Central Indiana. That is just another aspect of the Butler Way which continues apace today.

      Please give my warm regards to your son, his roommate and their cohorts. They are a true inspiration and a true legacy of a progressive institution located in the heart of my hometown of Indianapolis… and in my own heart.



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