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INDIANAPOLIS – When former Butler men's basketball players Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard got on a roll over the last two months of the 2009-10 season and guided the Bulldogs to the 2010 National Championship game, that put Butler University and its men's basketball program in the minds of the elite recruits across the country.
When Butler coach Brad Stevens' group replicated the unfathomable accomplishment the next season, it resonated even more so with those players.
What transpired at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Wednesday should take that relationship even further, according to Stevens.
Butler officially became a member of the Big East Conference on Monday, and Stevens believes that is one piece – one major piece – in solving the recruiting puzzle, which has prevented the best of the best from actually signing on with the Bulldogs.
“The bottom line is that (the elite recruits) were going to answer their phones anyway because it's Butler,” Stevens said. “The key is to ultimately get them to choose your school.”
Therein lays the dilemma for Butler over the recent past.
The Bulldogs have achieved more success than any other Division I program in the state for the better part of two decades, and have courted several of the top recruits over the past few years. But in the end, Stevens has had to watch the highest-rated players ultimately choose to go to more renowned conferences.
Butler is now on the list of five of the top 100 rated players nationally in the class of 2014. However, none has yet committed to the Bulldogs. Stevens and the Bulldog faithful have been in this position before, but he feels the result could be different this time around.
“The two things that we have addressed in the recent past that will really enhance that opportunity to be chosen,” Stevens explained, “are the opportunity to compete in the Big East and the $34 million dollar renovation to Hinkle Fieldhouse.”
A pair of those top-level recruits are Trey Lyles (ranked 5th), a 6-foot-8 forward at Indianapolis Tech High School, and Trevon Bluiett (ranked 46th), a 6-foot-4 forward at Park Tudor High School. Both players told The News-Sentinel earlier this spring that they concur with Stevens in that the league will make a difference in recruits' decisions to select Butler.
“Definitely,” Lyles said regarding on the impact of Butler's move. “You're playing against better competition and they have a better TV schedule.
“Their coach (Brad Stevens) is outstanding. They have good players coming in and they have good players already there. They know how to play the game. It's definitely a good school to go to.”
Bluiett is being courted by every high-major program in the state and he reiterated Lyles' thoughts.
“I think it helps,” Bluiett said. “Going from the Horizon League to the A-10 to the Big East, which is one of the biggest conferences, that means a lot. In the conference, there is not a bad team. You're going against a good team every round.”
Stevens lamented (a bit) that facilities and opposition shouldn't weigh so heavily on recruits' minds, but he understands the way the recruiting game is played.
“When you look back on your college experience, it's about who you were with,” Stevens said. “That really takes the cake. It's about who you were with and what that place did for you to give you your best 40-year (not 4, but 40) window of success. This place does that.”
Here is a look at the recruits ranked among the nation's top 100 high school players in the class of 2014 currently considering signing with Butler University.
Arsenal Tech High School, Indianapolis
rated 5th nationally
De La Salle High School, Minneapolis
Park Tudor High School, Indianapolis
Christian Brothers College High School, St. Louis
Middletown High School, Franklin, OH