INDIANAPOLIS — Most people recall where they were upon hearing significant news in their life, whether it was positive or negative. I remember where I was when I heard now-former Butler basketball coach Brad Stevens was going to the Boston Celtics.
Sitting in the Philadelphia airport on July 3, I got a text message from my brother, my partner in many Butler hoops excursions, including two Final Fours and the Maui Invitational. Together, along with virtually the entire sporting world, we were flummoxed.
After the initial panic subsided, and Brandon Miller was hired as Stevens’ replacement, Butler fans moved their eyes to the future. Saturday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse, they got a glimpse into what that future holds, with similarities and differences with the program’s recent, successful past.
Miller got off on the right foot in front of Butler’s biggest home-opening crowd (9,617) since 1993, as the Bulldogs outscored Lamar by 25 points in the second half in an 89-58 victory.
“What really made the win special was the atmosphere,” Miller said. “You see Hinkle filled to the very top, you see the Dawg Pound the way it was. For that to be the first win of the year and be 1-0, it feels terrific.”
It was tight game through most of the first half, but like so many wins under Stevens, Butler took off after adjustments were made. Miller probed for weaknesses, and found them inside. Senior forward Khyle Marshall dominated, with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
“At halftime we realized that I could’ve gotten in (the paint) more,” Marshall said. “So we really picked it up after halftime and it worked out really well for us.”
Stevens held the philosophy that leadership isn’t limited to class. With the dedication and fire Marshall and Erik Fromm (10 points Saturday) have shown, Miller is leaning on his two seniors.
“The first thing you think about with them is their leadership ability,” Miller said. “They have played in big games, and have the experience of playing night in and night out at a really high level. They have taken their experiences and passed that down as best they can, and took a leadership role from day one.”
Marshall’s motivation showed Saturday night, as he attacked the rim and ran down balls all over the court.
“It’s now or never. It’s the last go-round,” Marshall said. “You gotta give it all you got.”
Miller and Bulldog fans got a good look at freshmen Elijah Brown, Rene Castro, Andrew Chrabascz and Nolan Berry, who combined for 19 points. Each had good moments, and showed no passiveness in their first collegiate action.
Fans also saw one subtle difference between Stevens and Miller. While Stevens was the epitome of ice-water coolness, Miller has more outward fire. It’s the kind of player he was at Butler, and it’s how he’ll be as a coach.
Time will tell just how good of a tactician Miller is, especially compared to Stevens, a schematic genius who’s probably the best out-of-timeout play-caller who ever lived. After coaching under Stevens and Ohio State’s Thad Matta, if Miller absorbed even a small fraction of their talent for the sport, and brings his own personality and modifications to the table, he’ll do just fine.
Big East coaches picked Butler ninth in the new-look conference’s preseason poll. Most national prognosticators think they’ll miss this year’s NCAA tournament. That underdog status suits this group of Bulldogs just fine.
“In terms of big picture, never put a ceiling on our team,” Miller said. “Never put a ceiling on our players in terms of where we can go and what we can accomplish.”
Knowing the program’s history, it’s safe to say few around these parts will do that, Coach.
– Brent Glasgow is a sports writer for the Hendricks County Flyer. He can be reached at email@example.com or by calling (317) 272-5800, ext. 190. Follow him on Twitter @BGlasgow37.