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This off-season to carry particular importance for Butler

Butler men's basketball coach Chris Holtmann watches his team compete against St. John's this past season at Hunkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. (From The Associated Press)
Butler men's basketball coach Chris Holtmann watches his team compete against St. John's this past season at Hunkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. (From The Associated Press)
Aaron Thompson
Aaron Thompson

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For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Bulldog coach has compiled youngest team 'ever'

Friday, May 05, 2017 06:03 pm

In Butler's season-ending 92-80 loss to eventual national champion North Carolina in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament this spring, the Bulldogs essentially played seven players. Of those seven, four graduated, including both athletes that served as the team's primary ballhandlers. 

With that in mind, third-year Butler coach Chris Holtmann went about building depth at the point guard position this spring.

Holtmann announced Friday that the Bulldogs had officially signed Paul VI Catholic High School (Virginia) guard Aaron Thompson.

Thompson fills the 13th and final scholarship position for Holtmann.

“We did not feel like we had to add a point guard,” Holtmann told The News-Sentinel. “But we felt like Aaron really has a lot of what we are looking for at that position in terms of leadership skills, a defensive approach, a pass-first approach, unselfishness, and I think those were critical for us moving forward.

“We're excited about having him.”

Thompson, who originally signed with Pitt before being released from his commitment last month, will join redshirt junior Paul Jorgensen and another incoming freshman, Jerald Butler, as well as sophomore Kamar Baldwin as players competing in the backcourt this coming season.

The first three of those athletes have never played a game for the Bulldogs, which doesn't differentiate them from most of the 2017-18 Butler roster.

Of the 13 scholarship players that Holtmann will have to utilize this coming season, 10 are in their first or second season of playing in games for Butler, and six have never played in a college game, period.

“I am nervous about that,” Holtmann said, “having said that, I think that they are good, young and talented players that fit our place. But I have never coached a team this young. Ever.”

There is an array of adjustments, both physical and mental, for student-athletes to make as they navigate the pressures of competing at the elite level in both the classroom and basketball court, so Holtmann isn't disregarding the challenges that lie ahead with such a young group.

“Our roster is unique in its makeup right now,” Holtmann said. “We made a commitment to commit to being young and develop these young guys and if that included going through some growing pains, and taking some lumps, I think that we're going to have to do that.”

To soften those “lumps,” Butler will get a head start on the 2017-18 season with 10 practices this summer leading into a 10-day trip to Spain in August for a series of games.

“There never has been a year where a foreign trip will be as important as this one is,” Holtmann explained. “In this case, it is going to have a needed benefit. At least, we hope it will.”

The development of those younger players is already taking place, as the incoming freshmen have conditioning expectations heaped upon them as soon as their high school seasons have ended, and that work will get underway on campus with the Butler coaching staff next month when the student-athletes gather on campus.

For the returning eight players from last season's roster, they will continue to evolve as well.

“We need to get a base of strength and conditioning,” Holtmann said, “that is going to be really important for us. Our young guys are going to have to learn our system and what we expect of them and how we want to play. And we're going to need the team to grow together and trust each other. That is going to take some time.

“Spending time together, that is going to be really important.”

Thompson joins incoming freshmen Butler, Cooper Neese (6-4 guard), Kyle Young (6-7 forward), Christian David (6-6, forward), as well as redshirt freshman center Joey Brunk as new players for Holtmann.

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For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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