Tom Davis: Butler coach LaVall Jordan maintains the ‘Butler Way’ in initial season
Credit goes to first-year Butler University men’s basketball coach LaVall Jordan for maintaining the “Butler Way” over the past nine-plus months.
The Bulldog program really never skipped a beat following his hiring last summer, so in that sense, the faith that Butler athletic director Barry Collier showed in his former player to guide the program has been rewarded.
“I believe that there is great, great value in understanding what Butler stands for and having experienced that,” Collier explained upon hiring Jordan in June.
The Bulldogs (20-13) did a number of things this season under Jordan which looked typical. Things like playing hard, playing well, playing smart, being solid off the court and in the classroom, and last, but not least, earning a bid into the NCAA Tournament, which Butler did Sunday evening.
Butler will face Arkansas (23-11) Friday at 3:10 p.m. in Detroit. If successful in that game, the Bulldogs will more than likely have a rematch with Big Ten force Purdue on Sunday.
“I’m proud of our group for earning their way to this point,” Jordan told Butlersports.com following the announcement. “I’m proud of our seniors (Kelan Martin and Tyler Wideman); happy for our seniors to be one of three classes to get four NCAA Tournament bids over the course of their careers. That is really special.”
“Special” is a good way to describe Jordan and the work that he did this past season.
The season wasn’t always smooth (a 9-9 Big East record is indicative of that), but none ever are. A glance back over the past 33 games and only a hardened cynic would be pressed to find the overall picture disappointing.
Butler graduated four of its top seven scorers from last year’s Sweet 16 squad, yet it found a way to be competitive in the Big East this year.
Jordan had to develop a group which had five players in its eight-man rotation that really had never been in such significant roles prior to this year. Yet here the Bulldogs are right back in the ‘Big Dance” again.
There was the epic and emotional rally and victory over what turned out to be a fantastic Ohio State team in November, followed later by Jordan matching his deservedly lauded predecessor (Chris Holtmann) in beating top-ranked Villanova.
All of that achievement took a lot of things from the Bulldog coaches, but none more critical than maturity on the part of Martin and Wideman.
The two seniors had to accept – and eventually embrace – an entirely new coaching staff for their final season of competition. Anything less than that could’ve derailed the past six months.
The effort and attitude, a “willingness to accept coaching,” Jordan has called it, allowed this program to maintain its trajectory, every bit as much as Jordan’s leadership did.
“We talk about consistency being the marker of a champion,” Jordan said recently, “that is the reason that you can have multiple coaches in (those seniors) careers, because they were recruited under a certain umbrella.”
That “umbrella” calls for players to be unselfish and accepting and to battle through adversity, which everyone in the Bulldog program has had to do this season, Jordan included.
The Bulldog program experienced the high of rallying for a historic Big East Tournament win Thursday over Seton Hall, only to get hit in the head by a figurative 2 x 4 by Villanova 24 hours later.
Again, Jordan’s tenure hasn’t been perfect, but what this coach and players have demonstrated is an ability to handle adversity and overcome it.
“What happens to you doesn’t define you,” Jordan said recently, “it’s how you respond to it.”
There is no guarantee of the outcome in Butler’s game with the Razorbacks, other than this: Butler will be prepared and will play hard and well.
That much has come to be expected from a LaVall Jordan coached team and that is the surest sign that the “Butler Way” is as foundationally strong as ever.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.