Butler men’s basketball starts second season under LaVall Jordan

JOSHUA DOERING | SPORTS EDITOR | jdoering@butler.edu

The Butler men’s basketball team enters the 2018-19 season in search of a fifth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Butler defeated Tiffin University, 100-63, and the University of Southern Indiana, 79-58, in its exhibition games leading up to the season opener against Miami (Ohio) University on Nov. 10.

Head coach LaVall Jordan and his staff got a full offseason to prepare and work with the team, which was not the case a year ago due to the coaching change last June.

“It was a little less of a whirlwind,” Jordan said with a chuckle. “Coming out of last April, I think you just got some time to reflect and think about our roster and how each guy could improve so we could try to give them a pretty good plan for the summer and the offseason.”

In their first season with Jordan at the helm, the Bulldogs went 21-14 overall and 9-9 in Big East play. They were knocked out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by Purdue University and won a Big East Tournament game for the first time in program history.

Butler returns all but two players, Kelan Martin and Tyler Wideman. Martin’s 21.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game both led the Bulldogs. Wideman’s average of 5.1 boards trailed only Martin.

“We obviously miss [Wideman] and everything he did for us,” senior center Nate Fowler said. “Joey [Brunk] and I are going to have to step up, be able to fill his shoes and be able to produce what he did for us.”

The Bulldogs were picked to finish fifth in the preseason Big East coaches’ poll and received one first place vote. They also received six votes in the preseason AP top 25 poll but were not ranked.

Junior guard Kamar Baldwin became the team’s primary ball-handler last season after spending most of his at shooting guard as a freshman. He averaged 15.7 points per game, the most of any returning player, and increased his assist total from 50 his first season to 111 as a sophomore.

“[Baldwin]’s done everything asked of him,” redshirt senior guard Paul Jorgensen said. “He has worked hard in the weight room, he has worked hard on the court and I think most importantly, he has done the extra things. Getting in the gym on his own, changing his body.”

However, the biggest change for Baldwin was taking on a vocal leadership role, something that does not come naturally to him.

“I am more of a leader by example, I feel like,” he said. “Just having that vocal piece is something I have been working on.”

His coach said he is pleased with the growth Baldwin has made so far.

“He is a third-year player in the program,” Jordan said. “I always say generally, guys are not talking because they do not know or they do not care. Obviously, where he is now, he knows and he has got a high care level, so it is good to hear him out there a lot more.”

The Bulldogs bring back 61 percent of their scoring and 82 percent of their assists from last season. Baldwin, Jorgensen, sophomore guard Aaron Thompson and redshirt junior forward Sean McDermott all started at least 14 games last season.  

Jorgensen and McDermott combined for 17.7 points per game and a total of 107 3-pointers last season. Thompson’s 118 assists led the team.

Joining the team are two freshman forwards, Bryce Golden and Markeese Hastings. Sophomore forward Jordan Tucker, who transferred from Duke in January, will be eligible to play after the fall academic semester ends on Dec. 14.

“[Tucker]’s done a good job of just embracing the process,” Jordan said. “Trying to improve every day, trying to gather what we want, what we expect and that has been his focus, not where he has come from or what people thought on the way in.”

Following the season opener against Miami (Ohio), the Bulldogs play two more games at Hinkle Fieldhouse before heading to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament Nov. 21-23.

“We know that if we handle each game and handle our business we will be fine, and I think we can do really good things,” Jorgensen said. “I do believe this group is special.”

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