Thursday, June 16, 2011

Opponents Turn Teammates

There has already been a lot of media attention focused on the two Butler basketball recruits who performed well in the Indiana vs Kentucky High School All-Star game this past week, but if I have learned one thing in my years as a Butler follower, it is that you can never have enough Butler news! So with that in mind, I decided to reach out to both Andy Smeathers and Kameron Woods about their experiences in the all-star game and got some thoughts on them both coming to play for Butler next season.

Although Indiana claimed another sweep over the Kentucky All-Stars this year, it is becoming apparent that this high school state rivalry is growing closer and closer. Anyone in attendance, or who watched the games online, witnessed two talented teams fighting their way through four quarters of physical, hard-nosed, basketball. Players dove after lose balls, took elbows to the face, battled for rebounds, and of course trash-talked throughout the game. Despite playing for opposite sides, Kentucky swing-man Kameron Woods and Indiana sharp-shooter Andy Smeathers poured out nothing but respect for each other. The future Butler teammates came away from the all-star series not only impressing fans, but also impressed with one another.

Smeathers admitted that this was the first time he had seen Woods play and was excited about what he saw. "Kam is a great player and it is obvious why he is coming to Butler... I feel as if he was maybe the best player on the Kentucky team." Smeathers added, "It's nice to see another skinny player on the court, but he plays bigger and stronger than he looks. He boards very well and get many blocks and can step outside and hit the 'J'. I am happy that from now on, he is going to be on my team."

During the first game of the all-star series, Woods (along with the rest of Indiana and Kentucky fans), got to witness exactly what Smeathers is capable of. Smeathers dropped a game high 21 points on his way to  help Indiana seal the first win over Kentucky. Woods, much like Smeathers, came away thoroughly impressed. "I think he is a really good player with a great shooting touch and who can also handle the ball, distribute, and defend," Woods said about Smeathers. He went on to agree that he would much rather play with Andy than against, and in just a few more days they will join each other at Butler to do just that.

With just 10 days remaining until the new recruits begin to move in for summer workouts, both Smeathers and Woods are looking to make an impact from day one. Kameron acknowledged his assist-minded high-school role, and explained he expects to score at the next level. "I was definitely a pass-first player at Eastern (High School) because my role wasn't to score on that team, but at the next level I expect to play a different role." He continued by saying that he will always be an unselfish player, but expects a bigger scoring role at Butler than he did in high school. Woods admits that he won't know what his role will be until he gets to practice, but that Butler fans should expect to see 100% effort from him no matter what.

Smeathers, who has heard all of the comparisons being made between him and former Butler star, Gordon Hayward, is planning not only to play like Hayward, but also wants to bring his own aspects to the Bulldogs. "I'm coming in with the thought of working hard so that I am able to get playing time as a Freshman. I want to prove all of the doubters wrong and show them that I am good enough to play major division I basketball. I want Butler fans to see a great basketball player (in me) who isn't selfish and puts his teammates first."

These two all-stars will join nationally ranked combo-guard Roosevelt Jones and Australian point guard Jackson Aldridge in Butler's stacked 2011 recruiting class. Brad Steven's and company have once again found student-athletes who fit the Butler mold and not only excel on the basketball court, but also in the classroom. It is however, encouraging to see Butler compete with the Big 6 schools for these recruits.

"Towards the end of my recruitment, it came down to Purdue and Butler and I loved both schools," Smeathers explained. "I felt as if Butler had the total package with the combination of school, sports, and coach's. The selling point for me was Coach Stevens. He is everything the media portrays him to be." Now that he has signed a letter-of-intent, Smeathers gets a lot of comments about his commitment to Butler. "When people ask me where I am going to school and I say Butler, they have an awe that comes over them almost. They seem stunned that me, a 6' 7" skinny white boy is going to play at one of the best programs in America."

Woods was in a similar situation, with interest in him sky-rocketing right before he decided to pick Butler. "My recruitment was just starting to pick up and had an offer from Boston College and schools like Clemson, Central Florida, and Ole Miss were just starting to call. But at the end of the day I chose early because I felt like Butler showed the most promise for what I was looking for and the most promise in helping my game. I also knew that at Butler there would never be an issue with personal egos and that we would always play defense first before worrying about offense."

Andrew Smeathers and Kameron Woods have both enjoyed successful high school campaigns with each earning deserved recognition for their basketball skill and hard work. As that chapter closed at the Indiana vs Kentucky All-Star game, another chapter has now opened for both and "Butler Nation" should be extremely excited and proud to help welcome our newest Bulldogs.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Time for a Change of Scenery

For those of you who may stumble upon this blog in the next few weeks, I hope that you will not only enjoy my weekly updates on all things sports, but will also find some time to join in the conversation. I got started blogging for Butler University's Dawg Pound (Student Section) where I functioned as President during my undergraduate career. Now that I have graduated, it is time for someone else to take over the Dawg Pound blog and for me to move onto a broader range of sports topics. I copied over some of my favorite topics that I covered the past Butler athletic season and encourage anyone interested in reading more of my blog posts to visit

As the title of the new blog suggests - I am an avid sports fan, participant and conversationalist who, like many people, has an opinion when it comes to athletics. I hope that this blog not only provides informed sporting news, but will also allow for all opinions to be heard and shared. My personal passions remain with college basketball and soccer, but will continue to monitor the entire sporting world for worthy stories to discuss.

So until my first update, remember that it's only a game.

Big Game Tomorrow! (1-26-11)

Continuing with the trend of Butler's Horizon League domination, we now focus our attention on our Women's Basketball team. For those of you who have not heard, the Bulldogs are currently undefeated in Horizon League play at 7-0 and are looking to add another win tomorrow night. Standing in the way of that W is another undefeated and nationally ranked opponent - long time rival Wisconsin Green Bay.

Green Bay has dominated the rivalry recently, winning 28 straight against the Bulldogs, but Butler's top four scorers (all Seniors) are determined to end that streak at home tomorrow night. The 7-0 start in conference this year is the second best start in Butler history since a 9-0 run in 1993, while still in the MCC. 

The timing could not be better - in the last four weeks, Butler has won 7 straight games and has claimed two Horizon League Players of the Week: Bowen for the week of Jan. 10 and Hamilton for the week of Jan 17. If that wasn't even motivation, a win over ranked Green Bay on Thursday night would give Coach Couture her 400th career win. I cannot think of a more deserving way for such a hard working, strong willed individual to earn her 400th.

Although attendance at Women's games has not been known to sell-out Hinkle Fieldhouse, I am expecting and hoping that a good crowd will come support the Bulldogs in their quest to unthrone the Pheonix tomorrow night at 7:00pm. I have been told that those who attended the Men's game last Sunday can purchase tickets at the Box Office for $3 when presenting their ticket stubs. 

I also know that Dawg Pound members in attendance can enter to win $100 cash at half-time and that REACH will be there to pass out free t-shirts to the first 100 students.

Below is an address from Coach Beth Couture:

Dawg Pound-

Let me start by saying that the women’s basketball team and staff appreciates all your efforts in supporting our team this season. We have had an increase in student attendance at our games and it has been GREAT.

With that said, I want to emphasize the importance of our upcoming game this Thursday night versus our longtime conference nemesis, Green Bay, who is ranked No. 16 nationally. Currently, we are tied with them for the lead – both teams at 7-0.

It will be a tough game, and we certainly could use your help on Thursday night!

Go Dawgs!
Coach Beth Couture

As far as I know, there is not a single undergraduate student currently enrolled at Butler University that has been able to storm the court at Hinkle Fieldhouse in celebration of an upset. Tomorrow night, if Butler can continue their winning streak, I will see each and every one of you at mid-court when the final buzzer sounds.

Sippola Update (1-22-11)

Add a Columbus Crew jersey to your next wish-list and start getting excited for the MLS season to begin. On January 18th, Butler Senior and soccer star, Ben Sippola, was selected as the 30th pick in the 2011 Major League Soccer Supplemental Draft by the Columbus Crew. There were rumors that New York would take Sippola and others that suggested Columbus was the team most excited about the talented midfielder, but one thing was for sure - Ben Sippola was going to be picked and would play professionally.

The afternoon of the draft, Sippola was monitoring his status via a draft tracker with a few friends when he received a call from his father yelling "Columbus!" Confused, Sippola watched as the draft tracker quickly updated and displayed his name next to Columbus and the 30th overall pick. When the initial shock of excitement began to subside, Sippola realized how great of an opportunity it would be to put on the Crew jersey and represent Butler at a higher level. Plus, the distance doesn't hurt either. "I am a Midwestern guy, so I was thrilled when I knew I would be only three hours from Butler." Ben shared.

Sippola became the sixth player from Butler to be drafted in the MLS and the first since John Mariscalco (Colorado Rapids, 2006). Talk about a successful program - Six players have been drafted to professional teams in just over a 10 year period. Despite the fact that only one of those Bulldogs drafted (Stephen Armstrong) is still playing professionally, Sippola has a chance to play for one of the better teams in the league and will begin training with them tomorrow. "I will be joining the Crew this Sunday. We spend a week in Columbus and then head to Phoenix, Arizona for preseason," Sippola explained.

American soccer fans may recognize the names Robbie Rogers, Chad Marshall, Eddie Gaven, and Jeff Cunningham. For those of you who may not have heard of them, you could compare them to NBA veterans who have represented their country at the highest level. Sippola mentioned that "all of these players have proven themselves at the highest level of American soccer even making appearances for the Unites States National Team. My goal is to fill the shoes of these players some day. I cannot wait to learn from them and play with them." Contracts in the MLS, however, are not guaranteed, and Sippola will be fighting for his place on the team as soon as he takes the field on Sunday. "I will be on trial until they offer me a contract. It could be a matter of a week or a month or two before I am offered a contract. I will earn a contract if the coaches feel like I can bring something to the team, whether it be my work rate, tenacity, versatility, etc."

With everyone at camp competing for a first team spot, it may be more likely that Sippola will earn a reserve spot in his first year with the team. Major League Soccer has decided to bring back the Reserve League for the 2011 season and Sippola might find himself suiting up for these games. However, it is important to note that Ben Sippola is exactly the hard working, determined player that could surprise the coaching staff and earn a first team spot. Just ask Coach Findley, who recently left Butler to pursue the head coaching position at North Carolina State in the ACC. Regardless of when Sippola makes his 1st first team appearance, I am confident that he will continue to do what he has done in his three and a half tremendous years at Butler - win.

"I couldn’t be more excited to go to Columbus, I have wanted to be a professional soccer player since I can remember. In spite of this, I will miss the Butler atmosphere, going to basketball games, my professors, the athletic department, and of course my friends. All I can say is “thank you” to everyone at Butler for their support," Sippola concluded.

I will do my best to keep the Butler fanbase updated on Sippola's status, but in the meantime, add the Columbus Crew to the professional teams that Butler is contributing to.

Andrew Smith is "The Moose" (1-8-11)

After last night's 22 point 10 rebound performance against always pesky Cleveland Sate, I feel like it is time to debut the newest nickname for Butler's 6' 10" starting center, Andrew Smith. A few lucky Bulldog fans may have been lucky enough to hear or witness the "Mooooooooooooose" chants from the North side of the Dawg Pound when Smith gets announced in the starting lineup, but after his breakout game I feel like everyone should know. Now, you may ask yourself: What does Andrew Smith and a moose have in common? Well, hopefully by the end of this blog post you will see the clear connections between Andy and the Alces alces, or in non-scientific terms - moose. By the end of reading this, I am sure the next time Smith scores a bucket, you will join us putting four fingers on each hand behind our heads and chanting "Mooooooooooooose."

The first obvious similarity between Smith and a moose is their sheer size. An average moose has been known to grow between 6-7 feet tall and Andrew Smith stands on the upper-side of that at 6' 10". Now, because Smith is just a Sophomore it might be hypothesized that he is still a growing moose, but let's instead throw out those extra two inches and call it even. And despite the average moose weighing between 850-1500 lbs, I think we can all agree to throw out the difference there as well. But wait that is not all.

If you are not convinced of the similarities yet, than hold on because I have some more. One of the most reliable resources on the web, Wikipedia, claims that "moose are not usually aggressive towards humans, but can be provoked or frightened to behave with aggression." This is seen at Butler through the polite and bashful young man who listens during class and talks at press conferences, but come to play when it is game times. Another interesting point is that the natural enemy of the moose - the wolf is seen throughout our conference. When a pack of wolves or humans provoke the moose, the moose will fight back.

That means trouble for the rest of the Horizon League. Of the nine opposing teams in the Horizon League, five have mascots that are humans or wolves, one is a flame (that burns down a moose's habitat) and another is a panther that could easily be confused with a wolf in the eyes of a moose. That leaves the Penguins, who a moose could step on, and the Pheonix who would frighten any animal - thus creating more aggression.

Still don't get the connection? Moose are known as big lanky creatures with long limbs, but are surprisingly fast and can run up to 35mph. Much like the moose, Andrew Smith is tall and lanky, but is deceivingly fast running the break and jumping up for the lob. Don't believe me? Watch Smith run the floor next game. Last night, he was consistently one of the first people back on defense and ran hard all the way to the other end on offense. 

If you STILL don't believe me, check out a recent picture of Smith from practice this week.. there are some eerie similarities there, but I will let you be the judge. Rumor has it after this picture was taken, the photographer was dunked on.

Finally, the last point and possibly the real reason for the nickname might just be the fact that his number is 44. If you put four fingers on each hand behind your head (as shown in the picture at the top) it looks like antlers- thus forming a Moose. Truthfully, Andrew is beginning to blossom as a player and has been a real "moose" down on the low post. If he can continue to play consistent minutes in the post and put up numbers half as good as last night, Butler will be a scary looking inside-out threat. So whatever your reason is for calling Andrew Smith a moose, I hope that you will join us in recognizing our very own as "Mooooooooooose."

Night at the Museum or Afternoon at Hinkle? (12-22-10)

Before I get into the topic for this update, I have to apologize to my readers for the lack of updating over the past two weeks. Apparently finals, papers, and the fact that I got engaged last week were a little more time consuming than I had previously expected. I promise to give everyone a warning the next time that happens. 

Although I had intended to write this blog immediately following the Stanford game last Saturday, I thought it would be more enjoyable to reflect and write while enjoying the sunshine in West Palm Beach, Florida while the majority of Butler fans suffer in snow covered hoosier country. Truthfully, I simply forgot to pack and had an early flight Sunday, which made it literally impossible to update after the game. 

But anyway, despite the fact that this update will become outdated in a few hours (following the Butler vs. Utah game tonight), I still believe that this topic should be addressed and discussed.

Hinkle Fieldhouse, the home of Butler Basketball, is a national monument and historical landmark that brings numerous basketball enthusiast and historians alike to campus for a glimpse of one of the most storied buildings in college basketball. The athletic department have recently taken notice and embraced the new attention with museum like displays on the East side of the building displaying memorabilia from past and present events. Museums are known for the sophisticated and the quiet guests that appreciate the art/display in front of them. Here is the problem: that same museum crowd has carried over to game days at Butler and Hinkle is packed with fans who would much rather sit back and enjoy the display than cheer on the student athletes that work so hard each and every game. Those of you who have attended a home Butler game at Hinkle Fieldhouse know exactly what I am talking about. 

Over Thanksgiving Break a few weeks back, I did something that I never thought I would do - attend an Indiana University home basketball game. I was told that all of the students were gone on break - yes all 10,000 - and thought that Assembly Hall would be as quiet as ever. Wow was I wrong. 

I made my way to what is usually a student section behind the basket and politely sat down between the middle age couples and families that were taking the vacationing students spots. I was prepared for a nice and quiet game filled with a few questions from the nice looking senior citizen who was seating next to me about how the game was played. Again - Wow was I wrong. As soon as the game began, everyone from the 4 year old daughter in her IU cheerleading outfit, to the 85 year old man with an IU striped cane were chanting "Air-ball" and "Defense" along with the rest of the crowd. This was not the atmosphere I was expecting and definitely not the crowd I was used to back in Indy. 

A few days before the Stanford game, I had received an email from Coach Stevens urging us (the Dawg Pound) to be as energetic and rowdy as possible. He went on to say that the team fed off of the energy of the crowd and really needed us after a long non-conference season was coming to a close. On Friday night, I bought posters, paint, markers, and a white board in hopes that I could ignite the Dawg Pound. I sent out emails urging students to stay on campus until after the game. By the time I showed up at Hinkle and saw the line of students outside waiting for the gates to open, I knew that it was going to be a good day. What I did not expect was the reaction and involvement of the rest of the Hinkle crowd. 

From the moment the ball went up in the air for the tipoff, Hinkle was rocking. Many times (as opposed to none regularly) there were standing ovations for a defensive stands, there were adults and kids joining in on cheers, and most importantly there were Butler players taking in the crowds energy and taking it to a good Pac-10 school.

I haven't heard Hinkle as loud as that since the last second victory against Xavier last year or since Senior Night for AJ, Mike, Pete, Julian, and Drew. Can you imagine if Hinkle was always that loud? Can you imagine how hard it would be for opposing teams to come to Indy and play well? I can promise you that the Dawg Pound will work harder to ensure that this happens, but what will the rest of Hinkle do?

The new exhibit inside of Hinkle is a great addition that helps portray the amazing history of the old Fieldhouse. The main exhibits, however, are the Men's and Women's basketball games. What if Vincent van Gogh was standing next to a "Starry Night" exhibit? Would you approach him and thank him for such a beautiful creation? 

Consider a museum that always has the artists in attendance. Hinkle is the museum, and the artists are the student athletes that put their all into each and every game. Let's thank them each and every game for the entertainment they give us with our voices because unlike van Gogh, our athletes can hear you.

Dr. Fong Leaves Legacy and A Great Opportunity (11-11-10)

On a day when most Butler fans will be depressed and utterly disgusted with a certain recruit's decision to attend a different Indiana school, I find it appropriate to focus on the future and the enormous opportunity that may be facing the Athletic Department. Just last week, Butler University President, Bobby Fong announced he was leaving to become President of Ursinus College in Pennsylvania. While many were surprised and others were saddened, I couldn't help but think that this was good news for Athletics at Butler. 

Before I continue, I must stress that the opinion that follows is only that of me, Kyle Murphy, and not that of the Athletic Department, Dawg Pound, or any related Butler organization. 

During Butler's magical run through the NCAA Tournament last March, I could not help but feel that Dr. Fong did not fully recognize the team for its unprecedented accomplishments. Don't get me wrong, Fong was on TV and in the newspaper plenty, but each time he seemed to be reserved towards the idea of giving credit where credit was due. Instead, Fong used the publicity and media to stress Butler's academic prowess. In each of his many interviews, Fong repeatedly referenced how Butler's students' first priority was to be a student first. Now, I commend Fong and the University for its focus on academics and cannot imagine it any other way, but for something of this magnitude I would have expected more from our leader on campus. Call it "The Butler Way" if you wish, but this reservation of gratitude might suggest that Dr. Fong did not like the idea of Butler being recognized more for its athletic accomplishments than its academic achievements. 

Take a recent example of University funding: Many of you are familiar with the ButlerRising campaign that raised over $154.7 million over a 7 year period. Only 1.8%, or $2.8 million, went to Athletics with $1.7 million of that specifically given by donors. The money alloted was used for the turf, women's locker room and part of the recent bowl updates. The Athletic Department had to add another $1.7 million itself to make the Butler Bowl look like it does today. 

In addition, the Horizon League average for scholarships is about 120 per school and Butler only funds 95 for athletic purposes. If that wasn't enough, the Athletic Department also paid for Hinkle roofing repairs, the new baseball hitting facility, the updated sound system in Hinkle, additional tennis courts, an updated softball stadium, the new electronic scorer's table in Hinkle, as well as updated football lockers. It has also been reported that the University did not give one penny more for Brad's new contract. (Thanks to "bernie44" on buhoops for the majority of this information)

I am not suggesting that Butler University should place more emphasis on athletics than it does on academics; I am simply saying that there is plenty of room for improvement. With all of the media attention and millions of dollars worth of free advertisement, a President who will embrace the athletic success along with academics could capitalize on enormous opportunities facing our successful teams.

My somewhat controversial hypothesis is that President Fong is leaving Butler due to the recent success of our basketball program that elevated our athletic profile. I cannot deny that Dr. Fong was a great President for our University and that he will be greatly missed by students and faculty alike, but with his resignation comes an opportunity to fill the open position with someone more willing to support our blossoming athletic programs. It becomes more clear each day that facilities are increasingly important among recruits and without financial backing, those facilities may never be built.