Butler boys basketball coach Donald Kirby has been doing a lot of smiling recently, and it’s tough to blame him. With the talent that’s found its way to the Butler basketball court, the Bulldogs have become the talk of the town and the team to beat before they’ve played even one meaningful game together.
It’s hard to not get excited about his year’s team. The Bulldogs have assembled an enviable collection of high-scoring guards, including three players who totaled nearly 55 points per game between them, and a new point guard ready to make it all come together.
With that collection of talented guards, Butler is suddenly the team to beat, even after they uncharacteristically struggled last year with their worst season in at least a decade and failed to win the Southwestern 4A tournament title for the first time in four seasons.
But the memory of last season’s team – which was as talented as any in the conference but struggled with injuries, inconsistency and chemistry issues – is long gone.
Sophomore guard RaeQuan Scott is the holdover in Butler’ backcourt, and by himself was due for a breakout season. He started as a freshman last year and averaged 13 points per game – the most for a Butler freshman starter since Matthew Fisher-Davis, who began his career at Butler during the 2010-11 season by averaging 7.5 points while making 50 3-pointers for a 25-4 conference champion team.
Fisher-Davis, who has spent the last two seasons at Charlotte Christian, has transferred back to Butler this season, a place he calls home. He averaged 17.2 points and connected on 44 percent of his 3-pointers last year for the Knights, and attracted the attention of a number of college’s – including from Vanderbilt, a school he has since committed to.
But Fisher-Davis isn’t alone in bringing promise to Butler’s season and smiles to Kirby’s face.
Providence High transfer Giavonni Mack is along for the ride, too, bringing with him his Southwestern 4A Co-Player of the Year resume – which includes a 23.6 point per game average.
Queen’s Grant transfer Orlando Robinson, who Kirby said is a true point guard, has the enviable job of making it all work. It’s something Kirby himself questioned at first, especially with three high-volume shooters and point producers all sharing one basketball.
“From the outside looking in, I thought the same thing: how can they get along and share the ball?” Kirby said. “They’ve worked hard and all four of those guys have been great – it’s been a lot smoother than even I expected.
“Chemistry-wise, it’s been surprising how well they’ve developed with each other, everyone’s supportive of each other and it’s like a big family.”
For their own individual reasons, each of the Bulldog guards are happy to be together, sharing the court – and the ball – with each other. Scott said last season’s Butler team, which went just 7-16, had a volatile mix of chemistry and never really got on track.
“Last year, we had a talented team but none of us worked together to achieve our goals,” Scott said. “Now we work together, we communicate really well with each other, so this is a way different team already.”
Mack was part of a one-win Providence team – they ironically only beat Butler – and went just 5-45 the last two seasons despite his heroics. The senior relayed Scott’s sentiment that this is a vastly different team and he’s excited to be a part of a winning squad.
Robinson said it was much the same story at Queen’s Grant and Fisher-Davis said chemistry and injury woes crippled Charlotte Christian’s chance at a successful season.
It seems with the Bulldogs’ collection of high-scoring guards, the only things that can derail them is what’s hindered each of the players’ previous teams – either chemistry or injuries – but they’re determined to not let that happen.
“We’re going to play well with each other,” Mack said. “We have a bunch of talent over here and we’re going to play to each other’s strengths. Sharing the ball isn’t a problem at all. We gelled at the first open gym that we played in together and it’s not going to be a problem.”
And when it’s going well, it’s a thing of beauty to watch the four guards in harmony. Kirby said in a pre-season scrimmage earlier this month Fisher-Davis, Mack and Scott all got hot at the same time, resulting in a 26-8 lead after the first quarter.
But Kirby understands the questions that persist about sharing the ball, getting enough shots, being able to match-up with more traditional teams and how it’s going to be when times get tough and shots aren’t falling.
“They’ve worked hard and all four of those guys have been great – it’s been a lot smoother than even I expected,” said Kirby, who then addressed the Bulldogs’ other concern.
“We’re not as big as we’d like, but with these guards, if they can play defense and box out, we’ve got scorers, for sure. We’ll need to play good defense and use our speed as a plus. We’re going to be up-tempo and anyone who gets it can run the point. They all can play 2, they all can play 3 and we’ll roll with it.”
That’s the attitude the Bulldogs will employ, assuming they can find a big man or two to anchor the interior and add rebounding and toughness to a team sure to light up the scoreboard.
Holdovers Jay Gibbs and Leito Howard, a forward who averaged 11 points and seven rebounds, will get a chance to provide bulk, as will 6-foot-4 James Hill.
But in the end, the Bulldogs’ success will ride on the coattails of the four guards.
“We’ve been working hard in practice and we’ve been getting after it and that’s what we have to do,” Mack said. “We know we have to push – and it’s not just this four, it’s everyone on the team. We have to push to keep getting better and keep working hard.”
That last statement is music to Kirby’s ears.
“We have these four guys and we have some really good chemistry with each other. We can score the ball and we’ll be exciting to watch,” Kirby said. “We have guys who can score, but we have to bring that effort. We can’t do it one quarter, we can’t do it one half, we have to bring it.”
Fisher-Davis summed it up best, something all four guards can feel comfortable using as a rallying cry.
“I’ve always wanted to be back here, this has always felt a lot more like home. I love it over here,” he said. “I feel like we’d all rather average 10 (points) a game and get a ring, than going for 25 and getting individual stats.
“We haven’t done anything yet and people can talk but we won’t listen to the hype. We have to stay humble and play our game and just wait to see what happens.”
If it all comes together, the Bulldogs are going to be doing a lot of winning and scoring, something that could make everyone happy.
“If we all are having fun, that’s a big thing,” Fisher-Davis said. “I’m excited to see how we’re going to play – we have a lot of talent, we’ll be playing fast and it’s going to be a fun ride.”