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No program wins without a few elite players. Not even Butler.


Despite back-to-back Final Four runs, Butler’s always going to be seen as that charming, scrappy underdog. That ignores Butler’s success the last 12 years under four different coaches, but hey, why let facts get in the way of a public perception?

That perception makes it easy to think of the Bulldogs as a no-talent, little-known players who rely only on hustle and teamwork to win. No stars for Brad Stevens’ team, just wins.

But, as David Woods wrote last week in the Indianapolis Star, that’s hogwash.

Gordon Hayward? A.J. Graves? Joel Cornette? They were players scouts missed on, but Butler did not – and they turned into awfully good players. Hayward was an NBA lottery pick. Not to mention guys like Matt Howard and Khyle Marshall who were coveted by other schools, but eventually chose the Bulldogs.

Woods’ point is that Butler has always had great players. Maybe they fit into the Bulldogs’ scheme and played within a system, but they were elite. Nobody gets to Final Fours or wins NCAA tournament games without a couple great players. This is all by design.

From his blog:

At Butler, it is true that the whole has been greater than the sum of the parts. It has also been well documented that Butler has excelled at recruiting players with potential overlooked by others or identifying talent that fits.

I don’t know how many times I have been on media row and been asked by another reporter: “How did Butler get that guy?” (As if Butler should not have such a player on its roster. That is absurd, but I’m not addressing that today.)

Clearly, players do not need to be in some Top 100 or 150 to become a college star, or even a contributor. But the fact Butler is targeting such prospects does not indicate it is abandoning its principles. It is unreasonable to assume Butler can always “steal” recruits away from major-conference schools. Sometimes Butler must go head-to-head and out-recruit them, as was the case with the Sunday commitment of 2013 prospect Nolan Berry of St. Louis. Missouri and Purdue offered scholarships, and Berry considered Boston College.

If Butler’s success is to continue, it’ll keep recruiting and getting elite players. It can’t win without ‘em. Xavier, George Mason and Gonzaga all do the same thing. It’s not easy, but it’s what they do.

And they do it well.

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You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.