Butler, for all of its national success, is not going to suddenly revolutionize the way elite college basketball recruits think about their futures. The Bulldogs may have played in two straight national championship games, and their coach may have as much cachet as any in the game right now, but big-time recruits still want the brand new facilities and big-time TV exposure that comes along with playing in a major conference.
The Horizon League can't quite offer that right now. Not until Blue II and company go on their customary March run, at least.
Which is why Monday's news -- that Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke will take his talents to Hinkle Fieldhouse in 2012-13 -- is rather big indeed. Clarke, an Oklahoma native, had narrowed his choices to OU and Butler. He was swayed to Indianapolis due in part to Oklahoma's coming NCAA problems and in part to how he got to know Butler and Stevens in the weeks since Arkansas released him from his scholarship. From Jeff Goodman:
"It just felt like the best fit for me," Clarke told CBSSports.com. "It was a tough decision, especially with me being from Oklahoma."
"Coach (Brad) Stevens is an unbelievable guy and obviously, they’ve had tremendous success the last few years,” he added. "I really liked the players on the team. They seemed like more than just teammates."
These are two vital parts of the new Butler recruiting pitch.
We win here, and by "win," we mean compete for national titles. Whether you're considering a power-six school or other mid-majors, that's not something the rest of those coaches can tell you.
Our guys aren't just teammates. I'm not just their coach. We succeed because we're family. Do you want to be a part of the Butler family?
The Bulldogs aren't going to upend the traditional recruiting hierarchy. It's unlikely we'll see Stevens start to pluck from the best recruits in the country anytime soon; Butler isn't going to be able to start swooping him around the country on NetJets. But he also doesn't need to. He lives in a talent-rich state, one filled with promising but overlooked talents like Matt Howard -- and Stevens has a compelling case to make to those players.
Butler has an equally desirable argument to make to transfers like Clarke, guys who want to finish their careers competing for titles and feeling like a part of something bigger. Wouldn't you want to do the same?
As for Clarke himself, his impact won't be felt until after he sits out 2011-2012, his customary transfer holdover season. But he will provide an impact. Clarke was one of the more underrated perimeter shooters in the country last season -- his effective field goal percentage was 57.8, and he made 44 percent of his 3-pointers -- and by the time 2013 rolls around, he'll probably be the best player in Butler's lineup not named Khyle Marshall. (And that depends on Marshall's development, much of which we'll get to see in 2012.) Besides, a lights-out shooter in Stevens' hands is a scary thing.
More important, though, is what this says about how attractive Butler can be to the right kind of player. Clarke has one season of college basketball left. He wants to compete on a national stage. He's impressed by the Butler Way.
Overnight success doesn't mean an overnight recruiting boost. Those things take time, if they ever come. The current landscape is deeply entrenched, and as major schools lean toward cost-of-attendance scholarships, the gap between what Butler and high-major schools can offer players is only going to widen.
But Butler can do this: Find underrated prospects, local kids and eager transfers, and mold them into something greater than the sum of their parts. Actually, that should be easy. Stevens has been doing it for years already.