Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Butler becomes media darlings

By David Woods
The Indianapolis Star

On the Monday after the Butler University Bulldogs made the NCAA's Sweet 16, the players took a day off - at least from practice.

Senior players Darnell Archey, Joel Cornette and Mike Moore - all business interns - were on the phones at team headquarters in Hinkle Fieldhouse selling tickets to fans. Cornette gave informal tours to those unfamiliar with Hinkle, which is on the National Register of Historic Buildings.

The lowest seed (12th) and smallest school (4,200 students) in the Sweet 16 has unleashed a media blitz that could be as hard to handle as the top-seeded Oklahoma Sooners, their opponents Friday.

"We've got to balance it," Butler assistant coach Jeff Meyer acknowledged. "We've talked to our kids about it."

Archey was all over the airwaves Sunday doing radio interviews. Jim McGrath, the school's sports information director, said he received 10 times as many media requests as he did when Butler cracked the Top 25 in the Associated Press poll last season.

The Bulldogs were the sports cover feature Monday in USA Today. They merited large headlines in the New York Times ("Butler shows Louisville the 3, and the door") and the Chicago Tribune ("Best in show: Butler").

Media representatives want to follow Butler just to collect quotes from Cornette, a St. Xavier graduate who was so good in a freshman speech course that the instructor invited him to help teach the class.

Reporters want to know about last year's NCAA snub, the shaved heads, the fieldhouse, the Butler way. They want to know about New Castle, Ind., home of Archey and Brandon Miller and the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.

The NCAA Tournament didn't generate such frenzy when Meyer, then a young assistant, was on the staff when Purdue went to the Final Four in 1980.

"In retrospect, the media attention, what CBS brought to it, what ESPN brought to it in the '80s, has just taken it to a major sporting event," he said.

The buzz around the Bulldogs would cause anxiety for the coaches if not for the fact they have six seniors, four of them starters.

Butler beat Mississippi State 47-46 and Louisville 79-71. Next challenge for Butler (27-5) is top-seeded Oklahoma (26-6) in Friday's regional semifinal at Albany, N.Y.

Despite a case of the flu and doctor's orders to stay home and rest, head coach Todd Lickliter came in for a meeting Monday to begin preparing for the next game.

"Players reflect and embody so much the qualities of the head coach," Meyer said. "Our guys are tough guys. They compete and love and are passionate about the game."

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