INDIANAPOLIS – Rotnei Clarke isn't nervous at all when he steps onto a basketball court. He's played in front of thousands of fans, in hostile environments and had the weight of multiple programs placed upon his shoulders.
All of that has been no big deal.
However, as the Butler senior sat with his teammates on Sunday at Hinkle Fieldhouse to watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, he admitted afterward that he couldn't simply play it cool.
“I was extremely nervous,” Clarke laughed. “I don't know why. It's my first time to go through this and I was sweating and my knees were shaking a little bit. I'm just excited that it's over with and we know where we're going.”
Butler (26-8) was awarded the sixth seed in the East Regional will face 11th-seed Bucknell (28-5) at Rupp Arena in Lexington at 12:40 p.m. Thursday.
“I know about Bucknell's history,” Clarke said. “I know that they beat Kansas in the NCAA (in 2005). They've got some tradition.”
Clarke should also be cognizant of the fact that the Bison beat Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament a year later (2006). Clarke was part of the Razorback program through 2011, but transferred to Butler two years ago.
The experience of awaiting the post-season had Clarke a bit frazzled because as he mentioned, this whole NCAA Tournament-thing is new to him. Heck, if it were the CBI it would be new to him.
“I've never made a post-season,” Clarke said. “Not only the NCAA, I've never played in NIT, CBI, or anything. Actually, this year was my first year to move past the first round of a conference tournament. So I've had a lot of firsts this year.”
In Clarke's first three seasons of college basketball, he was part of teams that won 14, 14 and 18 games. So when his former coach John Pelphrey was let go at Arkansas, he knew that he wanted to make the most of his final season.
“When I made my decision to leave Arkansas,” Clarke explained, “I knew that I wanted to be somewhere that I'd have the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament. I'm just excited. It's really a blessing. It's amazing how God works.”
Though Clarke has no background to provide advice to his more experienced teammates (at least when it comes to the NCAA Tournament), he does have experience in playing at Rupp Arena.
“It's an extremely cool place to play,” Clarke said. “I can't put into words how ready I am to play.”
Butler returns to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year hiatus. Last season, the Bulldogs finished 22-15, but did not earn an NCAA Tournament bid. They played in the CBI and advanced to the semifinals before falling to eventual champion Pittsburgh.
The Bulldog program has made participating in some postseason event a tradition. Butler has earned a bid into a postseason tournament in 15 of the past 17 seasons, including 11 NCAA Tournaments. However, Clarke said that getting back to this point wasn't easy.
“We've got a little bit of an advantage because we have guys that have gone through the process and made deep runs (a pair of national runner-up finishes, as well as a couple of Sweet 16 appearances),” Clarke said. “It's a tribute to these guys because of how hard we worked in the off-season and throughout the season.”