For the last three or four years, Butler basketball has been defined by Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham.
These two players–as much as any players before them–personified the “Butler Way.”
However, as it enters a new era, Butler is still evolving and will still yield a team that can contend for another NCAA Tournament bid. There is a reason the Bulldogs were ranked in our preseason Top 25.
At Big East Media Day, the Bulldogs were picked to finish sixth.
The presence of both Jones and Dunham certainly made the job a lot easier for head coach Chris Holtmann as he adjusted to coaching a major program for the first time ever. While the loss of Jones and Dunham can’t be brushed aside, Holtmann has a couple of seasoned vets ready to take on bigger roles and enable the program to continue its winning ways.
The two centerpieces on this roster are senior big man Andrew Chrabascz and junior forward Kelan Martin.
Martin in particular is ready to assume a leadership role after a breakout 2015-16 campaign. Last season, Martin was terrific en route to being named All-Big East Second Team. He averaged 15.7 points per game and led the squad in rebounding (6.8 per game).
“I will have to do more than what I did last year,” Martin told Today’s U Tuesday at Big East Media Day.
“I just scored last year. I’m going to have to contribute in a variety of ways—defensively, rebounding, making plays for my teammates, hustling (and) getting on the floor (and) diving for loose balls.
“It’s going to be a team thing. We have a lot of veterans and we got a lot of new guys mixed in. I think we (collectively) can get the job done.”
Chrabascz has learned a lot in his three years at Butler.
He was part of a team that finished ninth (4-14 in conference play) in the Big East as a freshman, and part of a program that made two straight runs to the NCAA Tournament. Chrabascz has witnessed all the ups and downs and knows what to expect with each new season.
“It’s early and we’re just trying to improve every day,” said Chrabascz. “It’s my senior year and I’m hoping to get back to March Madness. That’s the goal for any competitor.”
To absorb the loss of Jones and Dunham, as well as rotation members Jordan Gathers and Austin Etherington, Holtmann is bringing in a lot of talented new faces. Among the new additions are George Washington transfer Kethan Savage, Memphis grad transfer Avery Woodson, and four-star freshman Joey Brunk.
Both Martin and Chrabascz are excited about what the new guys can bring to the table.
“They’re bringing a lot, everybody has different roles,” said Martin. “Avery is a shooter, he can make a lot of shots. Kethan is a facilitator, he can get to the basket and finish (and) Joey is very psychical down low.”
“I’m excited all our new guys—since we have so many of them—are picking up our defensive schemes so quickly,” Chrabascz added. “They are making our practices so competitive right now.”
The addition of Brunk and the emergence of sophomore center Nate Fowler should take a lot of pressure off Chrabascz to carry a big load. Chrabascz said he is excited about how Brunk and Fowler can complement him in the post.
“We have him (Brunk) and then we have Nate Fowler, who also has stepped up big time in the offseason,” Chrabascz said.
“Both of them are going to take a big load off of me from having to bang with the big guys too much. At the same time, I’ll do whatever coach Holtmann wants me to do and if that means banging with the big guys, I’m more than ready for that.”
That sort of freedom should allow Chrabascz, who has a solid inside-out game, to thrive. In case you forgot, Chrabascz averaged 19 points (on 13-21 shooting) in two NCAA Tournament games last March. Not having to worry about constantly battling in the post on a nightly basis, Chrabascz is primed for a memorable swan song.
Hence, basketball fans should see a much more diverse version of Chrabascz this season.
Butler has the talent, coaching and variables to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. However, dethroning Villanova as Big East champs will be tough.
Martin is ready to tackle the challenge head on.
“We’re going to have to come out and play our A-game,” Martin said. “Every year we compete against them. It’s going be tough but we can get the job done if we just stick to our details defensively and then move the ball offensively and play as a team.
“That’s when that leadership role comes in,” Martin concluded. “But we can get the job done.”