Wiedmer: Butler feat gives lot to talk about

Wiedmer: Butler feat gives lot to talk about

April 3rd, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Blogsncaa

INDIANAPOLIS -- Once a week, Butler basketball coach Brad Stevens heads to the Broad Ripple Tavern on this city's Broad Ripple Avenue to find some peace and quiet.

Most weeks he silently watches the television in a back room and works on game plans.

Tuesday, three days after his team arrived home from Salt Lake City as NCAA West Regional champion, four days before the Bulldogs were to take the Lucas Oil Stadium court at 6:07 tonight against Michigan State in the opening game of the Final Four, Stevens was stunned at the report playing out before him on the tavern's TV.

"One guy was breaking down Butler's offense, another is breaking down Michigan State's offense, and another is interviewing (real-life 'Hoosiers' legend) Bobby Plump," Stevens said Friday. "I guess that's when it hit me, 'Wow, there's a lot of people talking about this.'"

Other than George Mason's storybook run in 2006, it's safe to say no school has had more people talking about the Final Four the way Butler has since another real-life Hoosier legend named Larry Bird and his Indiana State Sycamores crashed the 1979 title game.

Then as now, MSU's Spartans stood between the little team that could and a national title. Unlike then, Butler is favored by three or four points this time around.

As Spartans coach Tom Izzo proclaimed Thursday, "I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid of any Cinderella story when you're ranked 10th in the country at the beginning of the year and you maintain that."

The Bulldogs own the nation's longest winning streak at 24 games, and that's not the only reason to like them. Take forward Matt Howard's somewhat visible mustache, the one he's grown during the three weeks of the postseason.

Friday afternoon someone asked him if he is stuck with the 'stache for life if the Bulldogs cut down the nets Monday night.

"Absolutely not," he said. "Tuesday night's the plan. Actually, Tuesday morning or Monday night is the plan to get rid of it."

Now if they could only get rid of the Lou Gehrig's Disease that has stolen the health of No. 1 fan Matt White.

Until 10 years ago White was what you'd expect any former Butler track star to be at the age of 33. He was healthy, vibrant, hugely successful as the marketing director for a large Chicago radio station.

Then he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's Disease. He is confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk, talk or do much anything else that can't be initiated by the slightest tilt of his head. That motion carries a signal to his laptop, which can miraculously do everything from talking for White to reading to him to adjusting televisions and stereo equipment to typing letters for him.

Four years ago his life took a turn for the better. He renewed a friendship with a girl from his Manchester (Ind.) High School class. He and Shartrina were married after they exchanged more than 300 e-mails.

"I have the most treasured gift of all, and that's his letters to me," she told the New York Times earlier this week. "They're beautiful. How could I not fall in love with him, and once I had, how could I not marry him?"

Lookout Valley resident Jane Bales Starner was White's high school English teacher.

She recalls him being "a great student, an outstanding track and cross country runner, an 'up' kid, always very optimistic. He was even the homecoming king."

So when she heard there was a fundraising drive under way to get White to the Final Four, she sent in a check. Someone else volunteered a Lear jet to fly Matt and Shartrina from Florida to Indy. A couple of his Delta Tau Delta fraternity brothers from Butler hopped into White's specially equipped van and drove it from Florida to the Hoosier State so it would be waiting for the couple when they got there.

Said Shartrina earlier this week: "I thought if there is ever a cure for ALS, it has to be Butler going to the Final Four."

There is no cure, of course. But there is always hope. White's Web site -- www.cureals.org -- has raised more than $500,000 for research.

And Friday evening, far from the media glare that has enveloped the Bulldogs, White gave his beloved Butler team a pep talk with a little help from his wife. Supposedly written along similar lines to one he read to them in 2007 -- the one in which he listed all the joys he'd lost in life, but quickly added, "One of the things I haven't given up is my love for Butler basketball" -- it reportedly urged them to play fearlessly and live fearlessly.

At the start of this season, long before the Bulldogs rose to 32-4, Coach Stevens told his father Mark, an orthopedic surgeon in Indianapolis, "We have a really good team, and I'm not sure how far we can go this year, but next year we ought to go really far."

Then again, if this Butler season had come next year, White might not have been able to write the pregame speech for his alma mater.