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TOM DAVIS: Butler ‘in the market’ for a ‘big’ and the Bulldogs better find one

Butler men's basketball coach LaVall Jordan calls a play during the first half of a game this past season against Seton Hall in Indianapolis. (By The Associated Press)
Butler's Nate Fowler goes to the basket against Seton Hall's Angel Delgado during the first half of a game this past season in Indianapolis. (By The Associated Press)
Butler University basketball player Joey Brunk watches his shot during a practice drill at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis earlier in his career. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)

There is a difference between playing a guy significant minutes because you WANT to or because you HAVE to.

Where Butler senior center Nate Fowler lays on that spectrum will hopefully gravitate more towards the former than the latter following his next six months of development.

“We have to have somewhere to go with the ball,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said of Fowler’s development this off-season.

Jordan said that the focus this spring, summer and fall of the 6-foot-10 athlete will be to get stronger and more capable of scoring on the block.

Presumably, Fowler will team with redshirt sophomore Joey Brunk as the only two post players on the Bulldog roster next season, which Jordan said may be addressed at some point this spring.

Butler has two scholarships open at this point and the signing period began Wednesday. Jordan won’t admit to being desperate for another post player, but common sense says that his team can not go into next season with just two options at the center position.

“We’re looking,” Jordan said of signing a center prospect. “(But) I wouldn’t say ‘have to.'”

Then I will.

In three seasons, Fowler has never been utilized as the main post presence, though his role has grown in significance each season.

This past year, he came off of the bench to play nearly 20 minutes per game in Big East play and had games in which he showed the potential to be a viable threat at both ends of the court.

The 240-pound veteran had his most productive season (scoring in double figures four times in league play and grabbing a career-best three boards per game), but he also had by far his worst shooting season on the perimeter.

Fowler made just 33 percent of his 3-pointers this season, which was far below his 47.6 rate as a sophomore.

Next season, he is going to be asked to play more minutes and Brunk is going to be asked to play regularly, which the youngster didn’t do this year.

The redshirt freshman averaged less than three minutes per game in Big East play and didn’t see any action in 10 of those 18 games.

To have Fowler start next season and be the main post threat, backed up for 10 to 15 minutes per game by Brunk is not a guarantee for success. Yet.

Which leads Jordan to his current dilemma of having to find a graduate transfer who can help quickly, if not primarily.

“Nowadays,” Jordan said, “and we did it at times this year, you can go smaller.”

Butler had 6-foot-7, 220-pound senior Kelan Martin for such an instance last season, but Martin graduated.

If Fowler, Brunk, or a transfer is not on the court at any point next season, Butler’s best option will be to play incoming freshman Markese Hastings at the “5,” which won’t exactly strike much fear into the likes of Villanova, Xavier, etc.

“I wouldn’t say ‘have to,'” Jordan reiterated, “but we’re in the market for (a post player).”

The Bulldogs’ problem is that supply and demand aren’t in their favor.

There are a number of post players, some of which aren’t as good as Fowler or Brunk, that are looking for new programs. However, because of the scarcity of experienced post players, coupled with a graduate transfer only being a one-year commitment on the part of a program, makes the demand for that player far outweigh the supply.

Take, for instance, North Carolina A&T graduate forward Femi Olujobi.

Two years ago, the 6-foot-8 athlete was averaging less than two points per game for Oakland University of the Horizon League. But following a very productive season this past year for the Aggies, Olujobi is now being sought after by a horde of Power 6 programs.

In late March he announced his intent to transfer from the MEAC program and he soon told reporters that he had quickly heard from over 50 programs.

One low-major Division I coach told News-Sentinel.com recently “There are guys that averaged six points per game in our league that are being recruited by a ton of high-majors.”

And you can include Jordan amongst those in pursuit – to a degree.

“We’re looking for a guy if we can get one,” Jordan said. “But if we don’t find the right guy, then we don’t find the right guy.”

Given the make-up of the 2018-19 Butler roster, it would behoove Jordan to “find the right guy.”

POSSIBLE POSTS

Here are a number of possible candidates that could fill Butler’s need for a frontcourt presence next season as a graduate transfer or in the future after sitting out a season.

* Aleksandr Abrams – 6-8, 245 pounds (graduate transfer, Cal Poly)

* James Banks – 6-10, 240 (junior, Texas)

* Connor MacDougall – 6-9, 240 (graduate transfer, New Mexico)

* Joseph Smoyer – 6-11, 230 (sophomore, Portland)

* Novak Topalovic – 7-0, 230 (graduate transfer, Idaho State)

* Wyatt Walker – 6-9, 240 (graduate transfer with 2 years eligibility, Samford)

* Kenechukwu Chukwuka – 6-8, 215 (sophomore, Pitt)

* Michael Finke – 6-10, 230 (graduate transfer, Illinois)

* Femi Olujobi – 6-8, 233 (graduate transfer, North Carolina A&T)

* Jacquil Taylor – 6-10, 240 (graduate transfer, Purdue)

* Omer Yurtseven – 7-0, 240 (junior, North Carolina State)

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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