Column: Butler coaches striking out on recruiting trail

The Hickory Huskers were in the midst of a poor performance in new coach Norman Dale’s debut as the varsity boy’s basketball coach when school principal Cletus Summers said to Dale: “I’m trying hard to believe that you know what you’re doing.”

The unproven (at least to the Hickory followers) Dale snapped back: “I know what I’m doing.”

As I sit in the office of first-year Butler University men’s basketball coach LaVall Jordan later this afternoon for an interview, I hope the uncomfortable exchange doesn’t get repeated as I address the topic of recruiting. However, based on how Jordan and his staff have performed in that regard over the past three-plus months, it just might.

The Bulldog program lost out on yet another prospect Wednesday that it was chasing, as Texas native Morris Udeze, a 6-9 power forward, announced that he would attend Wichita State as opposed to Butler.

The disappointing news wasn’t the first bitter recruiting pill for the Bulldog Nation to swallow this off-season, and it probably won’t be the last.

The Bulldogs are less than six weeks away from national signing day and they have zero commitments to fill their three available scholarships.

Butler has sought – and lost out on – the following players that it was seeking for the 2018 class:

• Udeze

• Aaron Henry (Ben Davis High School) – he chose Michigan State

• Eric Hunter (Tindley High School) – Purdue

• Miller Koop (Houston) – Northwestern

• Robert Phinisee (McCutcheon High School) – Indiana

• Keyshawn Embrey (Oklahoma City) – Arkansas

“I believe talent and culture win,” Jordan said upon his hiring in June. “There is certainly a history of success (at Butler) due to the culture.”

That much is true. But so far, the fact that the Butler program has been the most successful in Indiana for nearly three decades, is filled with high character individuals who achieve success both on and off of the court, is in a very attractive league and city, and plays in a beautiful and historic facility hasn’t resonated with a single recruit in this class.

The Butler coaches obviously need to do a better job of efficiently and effectively evaluating which kids are the “right fit” for their program and then finish the process by securing their services.

In the case of Koop, I can’t blame him (and I am a Butler graduate).

Indianapolis is not Chicago and Butler isn’t Northwestern academically. It is a very good school, but Northwestern is at another level.

Yes, Butler is the stronger basketball program of the two, but Jordan isn’t (Wildcat coach) Chris Collins either. At least not yet he isn’t.

If Koop based his decision on what was best for the remainder of his life, something that almost no recruits actually do; then:

A. That is very refreshing to see, and

B. He made the proper choice.

Losing players to Arkansas, Wichita State, or even the public Big Ten programs, seems a touch odd, as those institutions are entirely different in just about every feasible manner as Butler.

If a kid is searching for a large, public university that wows them with massive and magnificent facilities, then Butler isn’t going to be for them, so don’t waste time pursuing them.

Quite honestly, if a kid tells me that he likes both Butler AND (for example) Michigan State, then I’m going to deduce that he really doesn’t know what he likes. Or he is being disingenuous in some way.

To the right student-athlete, Butler can sell its academic strengths, its gorgeous campus, the basketball-centric focus that permeates the entire university, the city of Indianapolis, and the magnificence of Hinkle Fieldhouse.

If comprehending the importance of The Butler Way is difficult for a prospect, then the Bulldog staff needs to move on.

“This place is built on values,” Jordan said of Butler. “We use those values as the guiding principles in our basketball program and those values are in my DNA.”

That’s great. Now just go and convince some young athlete of that.

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.

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