- Paul Biancardi, Basketball Recruiting
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Butler has had success, even before coach Brad Stevens got there, but this Final Four group has been built under his watch as an assistant and head coach. Matt Howard, Zach Hahn and Shawn Vanzant were in the recruiting Class of 2007, when Stevens was an assistant, but the rest of this team was assembled after he took the reins. In 2008, he landed a core group: Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored. They were big pieces in Butler's run to the national title game last year, and while Hayward is now in the NBA, Nored and Mack have been key in this year's run to the Final Four.
The Bulldogs are terrific in the evaluation process and know what they are looking for in recruits. This program has been built on borderline high-major recruits with skill, high basketball IQ, strong character, toughness, a willingness to defend and insatiable work ethic who could use some development. At Butler, these types of recruits are given an opportunity sooner than they would at a bigger program and are allowed to develop more quickly.
In terms of geography, Butler concentrates on the state of Indiana and the bordering states. However, as the program continues to build, the Bulldogs are able to selectively branch out with prospects such as freshman Khyle Marshall, a Florida native.
Matt Howard (Connersville, Ind./Connersville)
Class: 2007 | Position: PF
Coming out of high school, he displayed a high level of energy and intensity on the floor. He was highly skilled and aggressive on the boards, and college coaches loved his humbleness and desire to improve. Programs from the Big Ten, Atlantic 10 and other major conferences offered him, but he made his final decision between Butler, Xavier, Indiana, Miami (Ohio) and Southern Illinois. In the end, Howard realized attending the biggest school wasn't necessarily the best fit for him.
Zach Hahn (New Castle, Ind./New Castle Chrysler)
Class: 2007 | Position: PG
The recruitment of Hahn was important because he played on the same AAU team as Howard. The tough, hard-nosed, lefty shooter has surpassed any reasonable expectations at Butler; he wasn't even sure if he was going to remain at Butler when former coach Frank Lickliter left for Iowa.
Shelvin Mack (Lexington, Ky./Bryan Station)
Class: 2008 | Position: PG
Mack was receiving interest from the Big East and Big Ten, and Kentucky even had the Lexington, Ky., native in for a look, but no one had offered from that group. He had a breakout game versus Kentucky signee Darius Miller that really put him on the map. In the end, he chose Butler because he liked Brad Stevens' team concept, and he liked the fact that Stevens was younger (31 at the time).
Ronald Nored (Homewood, Ala./Homewood)
Class: 2008 | Position: PG
Nored originally signed with Western Kentucky before a coaching change, but no big-time programs were after the undersized floor general. However, he fit Butler's style and the Bulldogs landed the Alabama native.
Andrew Smith (Indianapolis, Ind./Covenant Christian)
Class: 2009 | Position: C
Penn State, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame were all interested. Butler originally thought he would be a walk-on because his mother worked at the university, but after a big-time performance at the Spiece Run and Slam in May of his junior year, the Bulldogs realized they better offer him a scholarship. He was Butler's only incoming recruit in 2009.
Khyle Marshall (Davie, Fla./Flanagan)
Class: 2010 | Position: SF
Marshall is a good athlete who could score and rebound, but he never really played his way into the higher levels. He also considered Miami, Florida State, Penn State and Old Dominion. However, if it wasn't for some bad weather, the Bulldogs would have missed out on the Florida native.
In July 2008, Butler assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry was at the AAU nationals about ready to leave the gym and make the half-mile trek back to his car, when it started to pour. So he decided to stay and watch the next game, which Marshall was in.
Paul Biancardi, who has been a head coach and assistant on NCAA tournament teams, is the national director of basketball recruiting. He is also one the voters for the McDonald's All-American Game and Gatorade Player of the Year. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter. Dave Telep contributed to this piece.
Butler relies on winning with borderline high-major recruits who fit their system, writes Paul Biancardi.