Bill Trocchi
Thursday November 8th, 2007

New Butler coach Brad Stevens knows how he would like to expand his locker room if the funds become available.

"We'd start with a daycare area," he joked.

With a four-man coaching staff, all of whom are in their early 30s, it is unclear if the daycare area would be for staff or the six young children under 3 they collectively have.

"I'm sure our wives would appreciate it, getting a chance to watch the games instead of chasing the little ones around," said Matt Graves, 33, who is an assistant as well as older brother of star guard A.J.

The presence of the toddlers in the Butler locker room underscores the collective youth of the Butler staff, which bid farewell to Todd Lickliter in the offseason. Lickliter was hired by Iowa after leading Butler to two Sweet 16 berths in six years, including last year's run which ended at the hands of eventual champion Florida.

Butler athletic director Barry Collier quickly promoted Stevens to the head job despite the fact that he had never run his own program and was just 31. Stevens had been at Butler for seven years and worked for Ohio State's Thad Matta and Lickliter.

"I've worked in an environment for a person that empowers you to think like a head coach," Stevens said. "Coach Lickliter and Coach Matta both did that. They wanted us to think like a head coach every day. What happens then is, in practice situations, when you have your own team, or you have the scout team, and that is how you learn and build and get a chance to become a head coach. Those stepping stones and the things they allowed me to do and the freedom they allowed and trust they showed was invaluable in me feeling comfortable to be able to take on this role."

Stevens had an opportunity to hire an older, more experienced assistant, but he felt like he wanted coaches familiar with Butler, no matter what their age. And so Graves, Brandon Miller, 28, and Terry Johnson, 33, will sit alongside Stevens.

"I wanted guys that believe in Butler and knew Butler and how we do things," Stevens said. "We've got three guys that have either played here or been assistants. I got a good piece of advice -- in coaching transitions, you end up coaching everyone in the program. But if you hire people that understand what you are trying to do, that will make your transition easier because then they can help coach the players."

And if Stevens feels like he needs some advice from a veteran coach, there's one sitting down the hall. Collier was a head coach for 17 seasons, including 11 at Butler, before taking over as athletic director at his alma mater.

"That would be a wasted resource if I didn't (seek his advice)," Stevens said. "Some people might be uncomfortable doing that, but I watched Barry's teams take off for Butler and set a tone for what has been accomplished here the past 10-12 years. Certainly I lean on him. He has great advice."

Between Collier, Matta and Lickliter, the bar has been set high for Butler. In the last 11 years, the Bulldogs have reached six NCAA tournaments and three NITs, and with five seniors on this year's squad, led by Graves, expectations are Butler will reach the NCAA tournament again. That will mean learning on the fly for Stevens, who finished his college ball at DePauw in 1999.

A.J. Graves, who along with teammates pushed for Lickliter's replacement to come from within, says having a young staff helps the communication between players and coaches.

"It is sort of casual, but we get business done," he said. "It helps that they are all young, because all of them just recently played. They understand what we are going through. It is easier for them to relate to certain circumstances."

As for recruiting, Matt Graves says the staff has not encountered reluctance from parents of a prospect to handing over their son to four thirtysomethings.

"Parents leave the office saying, for being so young, those guys are really organized and energetic and have a well-thought out plan," he said. "They overlook our age. They may come in with some assumptions, but going out they are impressed with the organization and thought."

Right down to the child care.

With five starters back from a 29-win team and one of the top mid-major players in the nation in Stephen Curry, there is plenty of buzz around the Davidson program. Throw in a Nov. 14 game against No. 1 North Carolina at Charlotte Bobcats Arena, and you have reason for a McKillopville on the Davidson campus after coach Bob McKillop.

Davidson student tickets for games against North Carolina and Duke (Dec. 1) went on sale on Sept. 12, and fans camped out starting at 4 p.m. the previous day. McKillop and a few players brought the fans boxes of doughnuts in the morning.

"I don't have much experience bringing doughnuts to fans," McKillop said.

What he does have experience with is winning. The Wildcats have won 72 games in the last three years, and they are eager to end their 0-6 record against the ACC during that span. And while Davidson has an experienced team returning, North Carolina is ranked No. 1 in the nation.

"They have All-Americans, the possible Player of the Year in Tyler Hansbrough, and a Hall of Fame coach in Roy Williams," McKillop said. "The bag is full."

And this year, more people are talking about this matchup because of the projections of the two teams.

"This is the first time we've gone against a program with the tradition of North Carolina with the forecast of being the top-ranked team with ourselves being forecast as a pretty good team," McKillop said.

And the goals for that game?

"No. 1, to get better," McKillop said. "No. 2, I want our guys to enjoy the experience. Sometimes the extra media attention can take away from the experience because you are under a microscope. No. 3, I want them to play to win. I don't want a fear of making a mistake, getting blown out, of embarrassing themselves. I want them to play with abandon."

The NCAA recently decided the winner of the NCAA tournament's opening round game will receive a monetary share equal to those schools that win a first-round game. Previously, both teams received the same amount of money.

"We want that game, in every way possible, to be treated and have the same meaning as every other game is treated," said NCAA vice president for men's basketball Greg Shaheen. "That's why the board approved this."

The new ruling, however, does little to take away from the disappointment schools feel when selected for that game. Niagara coach Joe Mihalich expressed his feelings in March when his team was sent to Dayton to face Florida A&M.

"It wasn't about the money," he said. "That would help, but it was more or less the idea that you don't feel like you are in the tournament when you play in that game. I'll never forget walking out of the back of the Dayton Arena, and seeing those poor Florida A&M kids, literally sitting on a curb with their heads down. There is no way they felt like they were in the NCAA tournament."

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