Final Four Tourism: A Butler Campus Visit
INDIANAPOLIS -- On Thursday afternoon in Final Fourville, one option for gathering blog material was to sit in windowless press-conference rooms listening to Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Huggins. Another option was to go outside, where it was 81 degrees and sunny, and continue my Butler Tourism series by visiting the non-Hinkle Fieldhouse portion of the 4,500-student campus. It's a nice campus; this is the first time there's been a hometown team in the national semifinals since 1972 -- and did I mention it was 81 degrees? It was a really tough call.
I figured the mission would work best with a Butler ambassador, as opposed to me rolling in solo, as an interloper with a camera and tape recorder. Tim Kemper, a recent Butler grad who's a family friend from Wisconsin, set me up with a guide who was on a first-name basis with approximately 90 percent of the people we encountered on campus: Ryan Waggoner, a senior from Franklin, Ind., who was Butler's student-government president last school year. He arrived at the Starbucks -- the hub of social activity in the student union -- wearing one of Nike's Bulldogs Final Four t-shirts, but told me he had much bigger wardrobe plans for Saturday's game.
"I just borrowed the outfit from my church's Easter pageant today," he said. "You want to know what I'm dressing up as? David -- in a shepherd costume, with a staff and a slingshot to kill the giant. Because we're David, and Michigan State is Goliath. Their mascot [Sparty] even looks like a Goliath."
Even though Butler is favored on Saturday, Waggoner still sees the Bulldogs as underdogs. He was planning to go to Lucas Oil Stadium at 6 a.m. on Saturday to line up for a coveted, floor-level student seat. I asked him if that David costume was required back in Franklin, in pageant condition, by the next morning. "I'm kind of hoping this is like, an extra," he said. "But maybe it isn't." It was something only worth worrying about after the game.
Because he's roommates (and fraternity brothers) with basketball walk-on Nick Rodgers, and served in student government with point guard Ronald Nored, Waggoner had enough hoops connections to be able to surprise his fiance's mother this week. "She's obsessed with Matt Howard," he said. "So I put Matt on the phone with her, and she started saying all this super-awkward stuff, like 'I pray for you before every game,' and telling him how she cussed out the K-State player who fouled him pretty hard on Saturday.
"She was acting like she was 15. And when I called her back to talk about it, she said that she'd been so nervous, she almost peed her pants. She was stuttering, and she had to take her sweater off because she was sweating so much."
As we walked down Butler's fraternity-and-sorority row, surveying the afternoon party scene that was spilling out into front yards, I spotted what I thought was a Howard tribute. A TKE member named Derek Brockus was sporting a 'stache as dirty as Howard's. But Brockus boldly claimed that his, and not Howard's, was the original. "Matt Howard grew his because of me," he said. "The reason we're winning in the tournament is because of this mustache right here. Not Matt Howard's. Mine. You can go ahead and quote me on that."
Done. TKE had no Butler-related signage out front -- just a ton of dudes standing around or playing beanbags -- but most of the other houses did: Of note was the Tri-Delt sorority's collection of jersey-number yard signs (below), and the Hoosiers-referencing banner outside Waggoner's Delt house (seen atop this post), which says, "Let's win this one for all the small schools who never had a chance to get here."
We came across two different dorm-room window signs quoting lyrics from Too Big Yo, Gordon Hayward's amateur rap track that surfaced just before the first round of the NCAA tournament. Despite its questionable quality level, Too Big Yo is now so big that it's been the top search-engine hit on this blog for seven straight days, and was deemed worthy of its own Mid-Majority Symposium.
It turns out, though, that Hayward isn't the biggest Butler-related rapper. On the campus mall, Waggoner introduced me to Dawg Pound president Jake Skierkowski, who mentioned that a photo had surfaced of rapper Yung Joc -- of Buy You a Drank fame -- rocking a Butler hoodie. Skierkowski e-mailed it to me later in the day; I did some research and found out that in January, long before Mid-Majority's virtual symposium, Yung Joc participated in an actual hip-hop symposium on the Butler campus. Joc was photographed wearing the Bulldogs sweatshirt in early February, which means he was on the Butler bandwagon early. And who knows? Maybe he served as Hayward's rapping inspiration.
The best Hayward-related story of the day, though, wasn't about rap. It was about tennis.
On the mall, Waggoner also introduced me to Suzanne Fong, whose husband, Bobby, is Butler's president. She was out walking her dog, Isis, in the vicinity of the spot where, last Saturday night, Bobby was hoisted up on students' shoulders as part of a raucous celebration of the Bulldogs' Elite Eight win. Her reaction? "I was running around, watching them, and yelling, 'Don't Break Him!' "
The Fongs are headed to the Final Four game on Saturday, but they couldn't get a ticket for their youngest son, Colin, who's an undergrad at Bowdoin -- and a classmate of a tennis player who beat Hayward in singles while he was at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School. "The kid who beat Gordon is named Kent Winningham," she told me. "And he said, 'The way you beat Gordon is, his wingspan is so wide that he cannot for the life of him do a good, close-in backhand. His arm just doesn't do it.'
"So Kent kept hitting it right at his face. That's the strategy to beating Gordon in tennis. I can't tell you about basketball, though. I hope nobody's figured that out."