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INDIANAPOLIS – The new polls for college basketball came out Monday and Indiana and Gonzaga are ranked first and second, respectively. Butler coach Brad Stevens knows something about those teams, having already beaten both of them this season.
Not only has Stevens' team had the opportunity to test itself against the best that college basketball has to offer during this regular season, the 22-6 Bulldogs will more than likely get that chance again during the NCAA Tournament next month.
If Stevens coached a high school team in Indiana, which has its postseason begin today with sectionals kicking off throughout the state, he and his players would not get that opportunity.
“I'd hate to be a (college) football coach,” Stevens said. “Because you don't always all get a shot. If I'm coaching in the Mid-American Conference in football, I'm probably not going to get a shot to play for all of the marbles. If I'm coaching in the MAC in basketball, I've got a shot just like everybody else.”
Butler has built its reputation over the past two decades on being the less-prominent school that “got a shot,” and the Bulldogs have made the most of it. Two trips to the national title game put Stevens and his program in the national sporting consciousness. So it isn't surprising that Stevens isn't a whole-hearted endorser of the IHSAA endorsing multi-class basketball since 1998, which prevents a high school program in this state from duplicating what Butler has become famous for.
“Everybody that played in the single-class era is going to stand up and pound our chest for the single-class era,” Stevens said.
However, it is surprising that the top Dawg isn't ready to organize a march up Meridian Street and storm the IHSAA headquarters.
“There are two ways to look at it: Number one is that it sure was special to have the dream of beating everybody,” Stevens said. “(Zionsville High School) never could. We won one sectional and it is one of the highlights of my life. We went to a regional and got beaten by a bigger school that was a lot better than us, but we kind of had that chance.
"That being said, I'm starting to come around to the idea of all of the communities getting their time in the sun.”
Stevens may be ever-so slightly open to the concept of multi-class basketball, but his right-hand man at Butler isn't.
Bulldogs associate head coach Matthew Graves has a better-than-most comprehension of what a talented – yet small – school can achieve.
As a player at White River Valley High School (enrollment today of 283) in southern Indiana in the early 1990s, Graves helped the Wolverines to an incredible amount of success.
“I see its purpose,” Graves said of the multi-class system. “I understand why they do it. I absolutely hate it. I feel like everybody has a chance to compete. Some schools have more resources, more people to choose from on their rosters. But at the end of the day, it's five guys going out there and playing together, working together. I just think that there is something special and unique about everybody being given the same opportunity to compete. I really miss the single-class days.”
White River Valley advanced to the Evansville Semistate championship game when Graves was a senior after advancing to the regional championship two years prior and the semistate semifinal the year before.
In Graves' senior season (1993), the Wolverines took eventual state champion Jeffersonville to the buzzer before falling 61-59.
Graves sees similarities between his team today and his team of the past.
“There are certainly similarities,” Graves explained. “I think you get down to one main point: We always felt that we could beat anybody, any place, any time and we wanted that challenge. We relished that challenge.
"It's no different being here at Butler or playing at White River Valley. Any time that you stepped out on the floor, you felt like you had a chance to win. There is a time to compete, so everybody was ready to go.”
Take it to a vote
Though Stevens and Graves had differing levels of emotion behind their stances, both coaches are in step with their desire – in a perfect world – to return to the single-class system.
“If I had a vote, I'd vote for one class,” Stevens said. “I don't have a vote, but I am coming around to seeing some positives in the four-class system.”