Questions surrounding the Butler men’s basketball program are almost as abundant as bouncing basketballs on the court inside Hinkle Fieldhouse, as the Bulldogs prepare to kick-off the 2012-13 season on Friday at 5 p.m.
Butler is embarking on a new era by competing in the Atlantic 10 Conference after serving as a charter member of the Horizon League for decades.
The Bulldogs have a number of new faces that could play significant roles such as guards Kellen Dunham and Rotnei Clarke, and they also have a couple of large holes in their lineup after the graduation of Ronald Nored (37 starts last season) and the expulsion of Chrishawn Hopkins (24 starts).
“Each team is different,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “Each year is different. At the end of the day, I think each team is going to be treated uniquely. We’ll have to be prepared to get to work right away and continuously add with this group.”
The Bulldogs will open the season with one practice on Friday, followed by a couple of training sessions on Saturday, one more on Sunday and then two more on Monday before having Tuesday off.
Interestingly, the positions along the frontcourt will be pretty much solidified as the first practice gets underway. However, in the backcourt? Well, that is the hoop version of the ‘Wild West,’ as anything is possible.
“It could be anyone of five or six guys,” Stevens said of who will get playing time among the guards. “But Rotnei will play the point.”
Clarke was known for his shooting prowess at Arkansas prior to transferring to Butler and sitting out last season. He averaged over 15 points per game as a junior at Arkansas and was named second team All-Southeastern Conference.
“When I think of point guards, I think of decision makers,” Stevens explained. “I think of guys that can pass the ball, that have to be able to handle the ball in different scenarios: against pressure, and you have to be able to read (defenses) and lift all of your teammates up. Rotnei has all of those abilities.”
Stevens said that Clarke also has the skills to move over to the shooting guard slot and play alongside “a more natural point guard” such as sophomore Jackson Aldridge.
“If Rotnei is the main ball handler then we’re in great shape,” Stevens said. “If he’s not, then I really like him playing off of the ball as well. He’s a player.”
Aldridge played in 35 games as a true freshman and Stevens said the Australian native had “a great off-season.” Also in the mix is sophomore walk-on Alex Barlow, who played well in the post-season last spring.
“There will be a lot of competition for playing time,” Stevens said. “Jackson will certainly be one of those guys competing.”
Clarke can shoulder some of the offensive burden with the loss of Hopkins (nine points per game), but so can a lot of other players, which is what Stevens envisions unfolding.
“That is probably the best bet,” Stevens said of a number of players producing more. “But I really don’t know. It’s unpredictable where those points will come from. But I do know this; it could come from any of the five guys (on the floor). Just because it is that position (shooting guard), doesn’t mean that it has to be that position that is scoring those points.”
Players such as sophomore Andy Smeathers, freshmen Devontae Morgan and Kellen Dunham, and senior Chase Stigall will all get looks early in the season in the backcourt.
“The bottom line is, can we find somebody that brings out the very best in (center) Andrew Smith,” Stevens pondered. “Or maybe gives (forward Khyle Marshall) more opportunities? Or plays better with Rotnei? Those are all things that you find out when you are trying to find points, but do so as efficiently as possible.”