Butler relishes its role

Long-shot Bulldogs have taken chance and run with it

By Keith Whitmire

Knight Ridder Newspapers

ALBANY, N.Y. -- When you're a team from a small school in Indiana, comparisons to the team from the movie Hoosiers are to be expected.

When you're a 12th seed playing in the Sweet 16, the nickname "Cinderella" comes up often.


After upsets over Mississippi State and Louisville in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the term "Giant Killers" also pops up in the cliche lexicon.

The Bulldogs don't seem to mind what they're called after getting left out of the NCAA Tournament last season despite a 25-5 record.

"I'd much rather be dealing with the Cinderella tag than the tag of the team that got snubbed," forward Joel Cornette said. "We're hoping to dance to New Orleans, and we really don't want to take this slipper off yet."

On Friday, Butler takes on another NCAA Goliath, No. 1 seed Oklahoma, in the East Regional. By now, the Bulldogs are accustomed to hearing the Cinderella nametag. "It beats not hearing it, I'll tell you that," Butler coach Todd Lickliter said. "I like that we're here, and if people want to label us, it's fine as long as it's not derogatory. If they want to keep calling us that for two more weeks, it's fine."

However, while Cinderella was an overnight success, Butler's fairy tale ride has been years in the making.

Fourth-year players Darnell Archey, Joel Cornette, Lewis Curry and Mike Moore will finish as the school's all-time winningest class with 100 victories. They've won four conference regular-season titles, two league tournament titles and earned four postseason bids.

True, the Bulldogs have won back-to-back NCAA Tournament games for the first time, but they've won 20 games the last seven seasons.

"I definitely think it's been a slowly building process," Lickliter said. "At this point, there has been great excitement, but we see it as a step along the way."


Lickliter, a former Butler player, was an assistant under Barry Collier, who got the Bulldogs on their winning track before leaving to coach Nebraska. Thad Matta coached Butler for a season before leaving for Xavier two years ago, and Lickliter was named coach.

Lickliter played at North Central High School in Indianapolis, and knows all about the Hoosiers connections. Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse was where the championship game in the movie was filmed.

Hoosiers was based on the true story of a team from tiny Milan, Ind., that won the state basketball title. Butler's enrollment is just 4,200, but the campus is in the big city of Indianapolis.

"I don't really know that it matters what size school you are or where you're from or any of those things," Lickliter said. "It's really not about all those peripherals, it's about this opportunity."

On the way to practice Thursday, Butler's bus driver pointed out a "skyscraper" in downtown Albany, as if the Bulldogs had never seen one before. "He might have thought we were from Milan," Archey said.

Oklahoma is very aware of Butler's background.

"I can see where Cinderella would beat Mississippi State last weekend," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. "But Cinderella doesn't come back 48 hours later and beat Louisville."

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