By April of 2005, my sixteen year-old daughter had nearly completed her first round of college visits. On a whim, I suggested that she visit Butler University before narrowing her list to a few finalists. Since it was a smaller school than those she'd seen previously, and since it put an emphasis on internships, she was willing to take a visit there.
I think we were both impressed by that first visit, although I was a little disappointed at what was not featured on the campus tour. At the end of the day, I said to her that since I didn't know if we'd ever be back, I wanted to see if we could take a look inside Hinkle Fieldhouse. She very reluctantly agreed, and I pulled out the campus map to find our way there.
As you walk north up Sunset Avenue approaching 49th Street, the massive fieldhouse appears before you quite suddenly off to your right. At that first sight, I found myself somewhat in awe, but given my impatient travel partner I knew I had to move quickly.
We approached the many doors to the fieldhouse, and I attempted to open one. Locked. I tried the next one. Also locked. Hearing her exasperated sigh behind me, I told her that I wanted to try just one more door. I was pleasantly stunned when that one opened. I told her to follow me, and to act like we belonged there.
Not really knowing where to go, I led us wandering through the vacant hallways toward the back of the fieldhouse, then up a series of ramps in the northwest corner of the building. After dozens of visits since (she eventually decided to attend Butler and graduated with honors in 2010), that's still my favorite way to enter the arena, especially during the daytime, as the light from outside streams in through the windows on the east side of the building. Before this game, I replicated that initial journey. The view from the top of those ramps still takes my breath away.
On the way up the ramps, you see the following sign painted directly on the brick wall. Like other common warnings such as "Deer Crossing", "Do Not Take More Than 12 Tablets in 24 Hours", and "Silica Gel: Do Not Eat", this was surely posted as an aftermath to some horrific event. I shudder to think of what occurred to those youngsters years ago who prompted this warning with their haste.
The old building is named after former coach Paul D. "Tony" Hinkle, and naming rights here aren't bestowed without some commitment and sacrifice (and humility, passion, unity, servanthood, and thankfulness).
After serving a stint with the Navy in World War II, Coach Hinkle returned to Butler and led the basketball team at the beginning of the 1945-46 season. When basketball season ended, he coached the baseball team, and when baseball season ended, he coached the football team. This process continued through the end of the 1970 baseball season (or nearly 25 consecutive years as "The Man for All Seasons"), at which point the university forced him to retire as an active coach. Oh yeah, before the war, Coach Hinkle led the basketball team for sixteen seasons, the baseball team for sixteen seasons, and the football team for eight seasons. Excluding the war years, Hinkle was Butler's only coach in those three sports from the winter of 1934 through the summer of 1970. In addition, he was the school's athletic director throughout nearly his entire Butler tenure, was the groundskeeper for the baseball field, and painted the lines on the original basketball floor when the fieldhouse opened in 1928. His final coaching record totaled 165 wins in football, 335 wins in baseball, and 560 wins in basketball. No wonder then that his image is captured eerily in stained glass within Hinkle Fieldhouse.
This day's game represented an unveiling of sorts. Just as is the case for many of his aging human counterparts, the university is in the midst of succession planning for the beloved Butler Blue II. Pre-game festivities featured the (brief) introduction of two-month-old Butler Blue III (aka Trip). We fans were also treated to a return appearance from the original Butler Blue. At least for the pre-game, Hinkle Fieldhouse was briefly referred to as The House of Blues. All members of these festivities had their backs to us for the entire ceremony, so photo credit here to John Fetcho (Blue II on floor on the left, Blue III in the arms of the breeder Frank King, Blue on floor on the right).
There was also some basketball played here. The visitors came from nearby Indiana State, giving many of us recollection of our bout with Tree Fever last March. The Sycamores came in winning five of its last seven against Missouri Valley Conference foes, including a 78-68 win over Southern Illinois, in which they set an NCAA record by making all twelve of their three-point attempts in the game!
Butler freshman Roosevelt Jones opened the game with an easy basket inside, and Indiana State countered with an alley-oop dunk by Dwayne Lathan. Butler senior Ronald Nored then drew a foul, and connected on both free throws, then seconds later, hit a three-pointer, his first field goal in nearly three full games' worth of action. ISU cut the lead to 7-4 at the first media time out, and then it was time for more ceremony.
While Butler now seems to have a very rich basketball heritage, only one Bulldog squad achieved victories in the NCAA tournament in the 20th century. That was Coach Hinkle's 1961-62 team, an undersized unit who earned a surprising bid to the tournament, then knocked off 8th ranked Bowling Green to reach the Sweet Sixteen, before falling to Kentucky (and then beating Western Kentucky in the regional consolation game). The team was so outmatched physically that Hinkle was said to have told the team about an opponent, "They put their pants on the same way we put them on. They just pull them up higher."
For their 50th anniversary, the team was ushered quickly out onto the court, sans individual introduction, and then after some brief comments and roaring applause, was quickly led off before play resumed. I thought it sad that they didn't get more recognition, and didn't get a chance to get personally introduced, but I was pleased that they were able to receive a standing ovation from a capacity crowd at their old home. At that moment, it was hard to not think back to the old coach and to appreciate him even more.
As the teams returned to action, Butler generated perhaps its best four minute stretch of offense all season. Andrew Smith, Khyle Marshall, and Jones all scored inside, while Chase Stigall and Erik Fromm connected from long range. By the time Sycamore coach Greg Lansing called a timeout, Butler's lead had grown to 19-6. Butler extended the lead to 26-11, but ISU responded with a 15-4 run of their own, led by sophomore R.J. Mahurin, who by then was well on his way to a career high of 22 points. Butler then stopped the Sycamore momentum with a 7-1 run, and took a 37-27 led into the half. To provide perspective on Butler's first half offense, the 37 point half was its highest scoring output for a first half in nearly three months!
Halftime was Dance Time. The Butler Dance Team led off, followed by some highly energetic young kids from the Dance by Deborah studios in nearby Crawfordsville. As we like to say around here, "in 49 states it's just hip hop, ... but this is Indiana". Or something like that...
In the second half, Butler opened up with a 10-4 run, capped by two Chrishawn Hopkins' jump shots, and were never threatened again. Although the team hit a lull starting at about the mid-point of the second half, most Butler observers felt like this was probably their most complete effort of the season. With their fourth straight win, the Dawgs appear to be peaking just in time for the Horizon League tournament. They won't have home court advantage for that tournament, and they won't be the favorite, but I believe that most conference foes would prefer to avoid this team at all costs in a "win or go home" scenario.
One of the things I most enjoy about the @800GP reports is the opportunity to experience (in a way) some of the classic, old basketball arenas in our game. From these reports, I know that I someday want to make a trip out East to see the Palestra and the Rose Hill Gym, among others. For those of you who have never made it to Hinkle Fieldhouse, I hope this gives you a small sense of just how special a place this is. If you do get a chance to visit, aim for a Saturday afternoon game, and hope for a large crowd. I've experienced nothing like it as a fan of the game.
I'll close with three more pictures. The first is another pre-game shot from the top row, and the second is a mid-game view showing the fieldhouse basically packed to the rafters. The third is a view from the outside - I chose not to take a photograph of this view, but instead to share the Christmas present I received from my son this past year; a hand drawing he did of Hinkle Fieldhouse. You may not see it from the picture provided here, but to me it's as majestic as the old building itself.
at BUTLER 75, INDIANA STATE 54 02/18/2012
INDIANA STATE 16-12 (7-9) -- D. Lathan 3-12 4-6 10; J. Odum 0-3 0-0 0; R. Mahurin 6-10 6-11 22; J. Printy 2-6 2-2 8; M. Walker 3-7 1-3 7; L. Eitel 1-4 0-0 2; S. McWhorter 0-5 0-0 0; J. Gant 0-2 0-0 0; J. Kitchell 2-2 1-2 5. Totals 17-51 14-24 54. BUTLER 17-12 (10-6) -- R. Jones 5-8 1-5 11; R. Nored 1-2 2-2 5; A. Smith 4-11 3-4 12; C. Hopkins 4-10 1-2 11; E. Fromm 4-6 2-2 11; C. Stigall 3-6 0-0 9; K. Woods 1-4 0-0 2; J. Aldridge 0-3 2-2 2; K. Marshall 4-7 2-2 10; G. Butcher 0-1 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0; A. Barlow 0-0 0-0 0; A. Smeathers 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 27-60 13-19 75.
Three-point goals: INST 6-14 (J. Printy 2-5; L. Eitel 0-1; J. Odum 0-1; R. Mahurin 4-6; S. McWhorter 0-1), BUTL 8-20 (R. Nored 1-1; C. Stigall 3-5; A. Smith 1-3; E. Fromm 1-2; C. Hopkins 2-5; A. Smeathers 0-1; J. Aldridge 0-2; K. Woods 0-1); Rebounds: INST 24 (M. Walker 7), BUTL 38 (R. Jones 12); Assists: INST 12 (J. Odum 5), BUTL 17 (R. Nored 10); Total Fouls -- INST 17, BUTL 20; Fouled Out: INST-None; BUTL-K. Woods.