Chris Holtmann was thrust into the head coaching job at Butler, but he's been successful not only on the court but also in recruiting.
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The Butler Bulldogs are off to a 7–0 start on the season, and in the process they have beaten teams such as Northwestern, Arizona and Utah. For a team that lost two excellent players in Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham off of last year’s NCAA tournament team, outside expectations weren’t super high, but coach Chris Holtmann has his squad rolling.
Starting with Thad Matta, a popular phrase around Butler’s campus has been “The Butler Way”. The school has long prided itself in how it plays on the court and how it recruits prospects, and the results are evident again this season.
“To me ‘The Butler Way’ revolves around a goal of what we strive to be,” said Holtmann. “It is about doing things the right way and bring in kids with talent and character. We are all far from perfect, but the goal is to do things a certain way, and that ideal has led to a lot of success here.”
For Holtmann, The Butler Way begins with recruiting.
“I talk to our staff about ‘ABG’,” said Holtmann. “That stands for ‘A Butler Guy’. It is our job to identify and recruit those players and hopefully land [them]. Obviously very few schools are able to get everyone they want, and we don’t, but we do our best to identify the right players that fit our culture and at the same time can help us on the court.”
Now in its third season in the Big East, Holtmann says he’s learned to apply The Butler Way to the type of prospects he needs to compete in one of the best basketball leagues in the country.
“It is important to remember my first year here when I was an assistant, we finished ninth in the Big East,” noted Holtmann. “My second year, when I was the interim head coach, we finished second in the Big East with kids mostly recruited to play in the Horizon League.
“That showed us with the right kids we can win. It is important for us to keep that in mind, and not compromise who we are and to find the right pieces for Butler, while continuing to bring in the most talented players possible.”
This has been important for Holtmann, because four of his starters didn’t sign with him as the team’s head coach.
Point guard Tyler Lewis, center Tyler Wideman, and high-scoring small forward Kelan Martin committed to Brandon Miller, while power forward Andrew Chrabascz committed to Brad Stevens, though he never played a game under the tutelage of the current Boston Celtics boss.
In many situations that could have caused problems, but Holtmann says the type of player they have and the culture around the school have helped ease the transition.
“I definitely think the type of kids we have helped keep continuity that you wouldn’t have had at some schools,” said Holtmann. “There is no doubt that some of those kids have been through a lot, but we haven’t been through many bumps and everyone has played hard, and it comes down the relationships and trust my staff and myself has built with everyone on the roster, and it has helped us not skip a beat.”
Now the question for Butler is how to do they continue to re-load, and if the past two recruiting cycles are any indication, the Bulldogs will be in good shape going forward.
Current freshman Kamar Baldwin is showing star potential, while forward Joey Brunk and guard Henry Baddley are in the rotation, and in the 2017 class the Bulldogs have one of the better incoming groups in the Big East.
“I am very happy with what my staff has been able to do ever since we got a full staff when I was named the full-time head coach,” said Holtmann. “We have a very talented class coming in, and my staff deserves a ton of credit for that. They identified the right guys, and we were able to land some very good players.”
While the incoming 2017 class is considered one of the school’s best ever on paper, Holtmann is the first one to tell fans to keep things in perspective.
“I’ve had people come up to me and tell me we signed the best class in school history,” said Holtmann. “I just laugh and tell them to pump the brakes. The best class in school history had two NBA players in Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack and made the Final Four.”
He continued, “It’s going to be hard for any class to match that, but I am glad that people think so highly of the players we are bringing in.”
Kyle Young leads the group of Butler commitments. A 6' 7" power forward from Ohio, Young is a member of the Scout Top 100. Young is joined by small forwards Christian David and Jerald Butler as well as shooting guard Cooper Neese.