INDIANAPOLIS—After Gordon Hayward declared for the NBA draft just weeks after heaving up a last second half-court shot at the buzzer of the 2010 National Championship game, spectators and critics all around felt that Butler's moment in the spotlight was over indefinitely and the team would have no more relevance come the fall when college basketball started up again.
Some use the term that the Bulldogs "lost" Hayward, a young sophomore at the time who led the team in scoring, averaging 15.5 points per game during the 2009-2010 season and adding 8.2 rebounds on average to help BU achieve what no other team had done in school history. However, when people least expected it, the 2010-2011 season brought a number of surprises with Butler back in the National Championship game for the second year in a row with two different faces in Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack leading the way.
Now, the Dawgs are faced with another situation a year after Hayward declared for the draft. Mack, the 6-foot-3-inch junior guard from Lexington, Kentucky who averaged 16 points per game this past season, declared for the 2011NBA draft Tuesday.
Having coach Brad Stevens by his side with encouraging words on Mack’s future success in the NBA wouldn't allow anyone to think he believes the guard is making a mistake. Even with the potential lockout situation the NBA is encountering on top of rebuilding the Bulldog program with the departure of starters Howard and Shawn Vanzant, Stevens believes that this is the right time for Mack to go pursue his dream of playing professional basketball.
"I look at it as our job to put the best foot forward for Butler...and these [guys] over the past couple of years have done nothing but enhance Butler in general," Stevens said of Mack and the graduating seniors. "This is something that is all sweet for me; there's not one negative thing about it. I think Shelvin has a great feel for the challenges that lie ahead and my job is not to play advisor. My job is to play information-gatherer and help him in that regard."
Like he did with Hayward, Stevens helped Mack in his decision by weighing out the options of leaving early versus staying for his senior season. Not neglecting his other players graduating from Butler, the head coach has helped guide them to the next step of their lives.
"You're just as proud of the guys that are going on and being teachers, dentists, doctors, whatever the case may be," Stevens said in reference to the other players graduating and moving on from Butler next season. "With [Mack], I remember the things off the court, the way he acted; I remember the way he took accountability when things weren't going well, the way he interacted with our kids and the other students at Butler…You feel very comfortable when you have players like that making decisions that they think are best for their lives."
During his press conference Mack stated that Stevens told him about working to control what you can and not just looking at the bigger picture/end result when preparing for a potential NBA career. Stevens can look to take his own advice when preparing for next year’s season and the talent drop off the Bulldogs will inevitably face.
Sophomore Andrew Smith is the leading scorer coming into the 2011-2012 season averaging 8.5 points per game followed by standout freshman Khyle Marshall who added 5.8 points on average to the mix. The question that remains unanswered at the moment is where Butler goes from here. Next season, the Bulldogs welcome in two 3-star recruits in Roosevelt Jones and Jackson Aldridge as well as two other 2-star players looking to make an impact in college basketball. Players like Mack, Howard and Vanzant were once in their position—faceless names looking to make an impact on a program at the national level.
Coach Stevens seemingly has no regrets about any of his players leaving, particularly the two that left college early in hopes to pursue a career playing professional basketball. If only one could determine how he remains so positive knowing his roster is depleted by six spots for the following season…
This mentality goes along with the "Butler Way" that Stevens has harped particularly in the last two seasons. It's that unselfishness of standing back and letting your players take lead of their own lives and at what point they feel their goals will be most achievable.
While it’s inevitable that Butler will have an extensive rebuilding process, it’s undeniable that Mack and the graduating seniors left their mark on the Bulldog program for years to come. While players like Mack will continue to come and go, bringing the Butler name into the national spotlight of professional basketball, their legacy will impact the BU program more than any record of any season could ever fathom.