By Matt Nestor
In Indianapolis, the Butler Bulldogs making it to the Final Four as the host city is a great story. And their local success reaches to local success here as well.
One of Butler’s lead guards is senior Willie Veasley, a former standout for the Freeport Pretzels.
Veasley, who is averaging 10 points per game for the Bulldogs, has been vital to Butler’s run to the Final Four. In the regional semifinal game, he hit a late 3 to help Butler regain the lead and hold on to beat the top seed Syracuse.
“It was more relief because we kind of struggled a little bit in the second half to shoot,” Veasley said of his big shot. “It got us sparked again on defense because we knew we had to get stops after that.”
The Bulldogs followed that win up with a second upset over the second seed Kansas State to make it to the Final Four. Butler coach Brad Stevens said they really felt their guards, including Veasley, could shut down Kansas State’s greatest strength, which is guard play.
“It’s harder to make shots when you’re open if you’ve had a rough day for 30 minutes,” Stevens said. “We got Willie, Shawn (Vanzant) and Ron (Nored), guys that you can put on guards that can score and play.”
Butler is a small school with an enrollment around 4,500 students. Stevens said the closeness of the student body helps the team stay focused and not look too far ahead and lose track of their goals.
“Butler basketball is based on a lot of values off the floor,” he said. “While we’re on the floor, it’s also based on winning the next possession.”
Butler is the first team since George Mason to make the Final Four from outside the power six conferences in the NCAA. But this is an experienced Butler team, led by seniors like Veasley, who came into the season with aspirations of being where they are at.
Stevens said that at the end of the day, what conference you are from doesn’t matter. He said you can call his team a mid-major or Cinderella, but they are good and will come to play.
“It’s more about matchups than league affiliation,” Stevens said. “It’s all about who you’re playing.”
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From the March 31-April 6, 2010 issue