HILLARY SMITH: Butler's run has residual effects

2011-04-24T22:00:00Z 2011-05-23T17:35:16Z HILLARY SMITH: Butler's run has residual effectsBy Hillary Smith hillary.smith@nwi.com, (219) 933-3233 nwitimes.com

When Butler beat Pittsburgh to reach the Sweet 16 in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, Nick Hladek was sitting on a plane.

His baseball teammates had bought access to the plane's Wi-Fi to keep up with real-time action and watch their fellow Bulldogs try to make a second-straight unpredictable run through the NCAA tournament.

The Crown Point native had watched with his team as a crowd gathered around them, cheering from an airport lounge at every basket and every miss. By halftime, they were ushered from Orlando home to Indianapolis.

The flight was never more fun.

Neither has the two-year ride been.

As a freshman, Hladek and fellow Crown Point grad Mike Hernandez were on the same dorm floor as Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored.

At an academically rigorous school, Hladek had just spent a summer answering the question: "Where's Butler?"

No one asks that anymore.

"Obviously, it's been crazy," Hladek said. "Butler being the challenging academic school that it is, it's been a wild ride for the athletic department. Last year, it was like, they kept going farther and farther and knocking off 1-seeds and teams no one picked them to beat. It was absolutely wild.

"After Gordon (Hayward) went in the draft, people wrote Butler off. You could feel it around campus when they were losing games that they shouldn't have, the electricity changed when they got to the tournament and were finding a way to win. Once they started winning this year, it was about balancing class, traveling for baseball and trying to watch those guys. You're almost living in ... not in a reality."

The money coming into the Horizon League and into Butler since the win has helped out more than just the basketball team.

The equipment is fresher and the banners that hang on the walls read things Hladek and Hernandez would have never imagined when they committed to Butler in 2008.

"It was funny, yesterday or the day before, I was walking into the building and saw the signs '2010, 2011 National Runner-Up' and wondered if anyone five years ago or 10 years ago would have ever imagined that Butler University would be in the national championship game two years in a row," Hladek said. "Obviously, they'll compete every year, but you never would have thought, never would have thought."

After the success of the men's basketball team last season, the baseball team followed with a 21-29 overall record and 11-13 in the Horizon League.

The Bulldogs went 3-4 at the tournament in Winter Haven, Fla., the one they were flying back from in March, and sitting around .500.

But there's a little more fear that comes with the Butler name, and now a recognition that is bringing in recruits.

"Definitely more recruits," Hladek said. "Showing what they've done the last few years, what Brad Stevens can do with any type of players, guys that are talented and work hard, that put Butler on the map."

When asked if he's had a chance to thank Mack or Nored for the new equipment that the baseball team enjoys as well, Hladek chuckled a little.

"A lot of that goes without saying."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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