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TOM DAVIS: Seniors follow ‘The Butler Way’ through oft-challenging careers

Butler forward Kelan Martin (30) shoots over Creighton guard Davion Mintz (1) during the first half of a game in Indianapolis Tuesday. (By The Associated Press)
Creighton guard Davion Mintz (1) shoots over Butler forward Tyler Wideman (4) during the second half of a basketball game in Indianapolis Tuesday. (By The Associated Press)
Butler University men's basketball coach LaVall Jordan gestures in the second half of a recent game against Providence in Indianapolis. (By The Associated Press)
Butler forward Kelan Martin (30) brings the ball up court against Creighton in the first half of a game in Indianapolis Tuesday. (By The Associated Press)
Butler forward Tyler Wideman (4) drives on Providence forward Rodney Bullock (5) in the second half of a recent game in Indianapolis. (By The Associated Press)

It’s inaccurate to paint a picture that the journey of both Kelan Martin and Tyler Wideman was one of surprise throughout their time as members of the Butler men’s basketball program.

Of course, neither Bulldog player ever envisioned spending time under three different head coaches, but aside from that monumental detail, the experience was exactly what every student – athlete or not – is told to expect when they sign up to be a Bulldog.

Each Butler student ultimately ends up having a similar experience, in many regards, and has for nearly three decades. If you come to Butler, you’ll be part of a special group of people that achieves a great deal of success through “commitment” (a trait of ‘The Butler Way’); you’ll grow as a person, a student, and in the case of Martin and Wideman, as an athlete through “seeking improvement every day” (another trait); and the experience will be one that you cherish for the remainder of your life.

Whoever is leading the basketball program will not – and can not – alter that.

“That’s the beauty of it,” first-year Butler coach LaVall Jordan said of ‘The Butler Way’ Tuesday in a press conference. “It is time tested, and there are true values and principles that guide us that are preached, and they’re lived by everybody at the university that has something to do with it.”

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That is precisely why Martin and Wideman could reflect on their time with the program following their final home game Tuesday with such positive emotions, regardless of the curves along their paths.

No matter what had happened during their college experience, ‘The Butler Way’ would be a philosophical compass that continued to guide them toward success.

The two Bulldog seniors walked off the elevated Hinkle Fieldhouse court for the final time after performing in a way that every Butler fan could appreciate, as they won for the 89th time in their careers.

The Bulldog offense was crisp and fast-paced, the defense tenacious, and the effort unrelenting, as Butler (19-10, 9-7 Big East) handed Creighton (19-9, 8-7) its worst defeat (93-70) in over three years.

Wideman finished with eight points, four rebounds, and three assists in 24 minutes, while Martin scored a game-high 26 points to go with his seven rebounds.

“The number one task from (Martin and Wideman) and everybody else was to compete at a level where we have a chance to win the game,” Jordan said afterward. “I was proud of our defensive effort, to hold Creighton to 70 points is an accomplishment.

“Our guys were really focused. We had a high-energy level and our communication was at maybe an all-time high.”

“Communication” was critical for Jordan last summer, when he walked into a stunned Bulldog locker room filled with players that had unexpectedly lost their coach to another program.

Jordan said Tuesday that as significant as Martin and Wideman have been on the court this season (they have both been tremendous), he needed their assistance off of it even more.

“They accepted me and our (coaching) staff at a gracious level, in terms of how we walked in,” Jordan said. “It wasn’t like we were reinventing the wheel. Butler is Butler and we’re going to do what we do here. They know a lot of the staples.

“But for (the seniors), you think about what they have gone through, in terms of different coaches, that is not easy.”

Martin and Wideman had signed to play for former Butler coach Brandon Miller, but instead spent three years under Jordan’s highly-successful predecessor (Chris Holtmann). Truth be told, the two had more invested in this program, at the time, than Jordan did, regardless of the fact that he is a former Bulldog student-athlete himself.

The past nine months could have gone a bit sideways if the three of them wouldn’t have come to an understanding on goals and direction for the program, but that definitely would not have been ‘The Butler Way.’

Part of the famed mantra is to “accept reality,” and no player did that more so than the two seniors, as they put the “team above self” (yet another element to follow).

“When we had conversations early,” Jordan said, “we agreed on one thing: We love Butler and we want Butler to do well and we want to do our best to make that happen.

“As we got to know each other, we’ve had fun developing those relationships.”

That bond – as well as the fact that the Bulldogs have continued winning – has made the transition for Jordan (and the Butler fans) very seamless and no one is more responsible for that than Martin and Wideman.

“They embraced (the coaching change),” Jordan said. “It was like we had known each other for years. That is something that I’ll always be indebted to them for.”

Every Butler fan will be, as well.

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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