By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Playing home games in a veritable museum has its advantages.
Because visitors flock from all over to visit Butler’s historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, the doors to the famous arena routinely are open. All former Pendleton Heights star Kellen Dunham needs is his electronic password for the team’s locker room and he’s all set for some quality court time.
That’s nirvana for the lifelong gym rat who completed his freshman season with the Bulldogs in Saturday night’s 74-72 loss against Marquette in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Less than 48 hours later, Dunham trekked through the snow on campus after his Monday classes and made his way back onto his home floor. He scored four points in the loss to the Golden Eagles, shooting 1-for-4 from the floor and 1-for-2 at the free-throw line. He also made one of his two 3-point attempts.
Dunham replayed those shots Monday, losing track of the number of attempts he put up and getting ready for the start of his sophomore season that’s still more than seven months away.
“I was working on the ones I missed in the Marquette game,” Dunham said of the impromptu workout, “and trying to convince myself they’re hittable.”
That shouldn’t take a giant leap of faith.
Dunham finished second on the team in 3-point percentage (34.5), fourth in minutes per game (26.1) and fifth in scoring average (9.5). He scored 18 points in his first regular season game on Nov. 10 against Elon and had his final double-digit scoring night (14) against Atlantic 10 champion St. Louis on Feb. 22.
With leading scorers Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith set to leave the team as seniors, Dunham figures to play an even greater role for Butler next season. He’ll likely be the team’s primary threat from the perimeter, and he knows he’ll have to improve his 37.5 percent overall shooting percentage.
As the season wore on, Dunham became more aggressive in driving to the basket, and he said he’ll credit any improvement in his game next year to the experience of playing alongside Clarke.
In his lone season with the Bulldogs, the Arkansas transfer led the team with 16.9 points per game and shot 40.8 percent from 3-point range. One of the nation’s deadliest shooters, Clarke taught Dunham a veteran trick or two.
And it wasn’t all about basketball.
“He’s an incredible player and an even better person,” Dunham said. “I learned so much about life being around him, and so much more about basketball.”
The season was another wild ride for a Butler program that has firmly established itself among the nation’s upper echelon.
There were upsets over North Carolina and Marquette early in the season at the Maui Invitational. And nationally televised buzzer-beaters against eventual NCAA tournament No. 1 seeds Indiana and Gonzaga closer to home — at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the former and at home at Hinkle for the latter.
The Bulldogs were 27-9 overall and 11-5 and tied for third place in their first — and last — season in the Atlantic 10. Dunham got to play in a conference tournament in Brooklyn’s gleaming new Barclays Center and closed the season at legendary Rupp Arena in the NCAA tournament.
“I just appreciate all the opportunities Butler has given me and my teammates this year,” Dunham said.
And there are more on the way.
The Bulldogs were a member of the Horizon League when Dunham verbally committed to the program as a junior at Pendleton Heights. The team had moved to the Atlantic 10 by the time he actually took the court this season, and it will play next fall in the new Big East Conference.
Marquette will be among Butler’s new league rivals, and if the two thrillers played between the schools this season are any indication the Bulldogs are in for another dramatic campaign.
But high-quality competition is nothing new at Butler. Atlantic 10 schools won their first six games in the NCAA tournament, and LaSalle will represent the league in the Sweet 16. Marquette is the lone member of the new Big East to advance as far.
“We look at it as a new challenge,” Dunham said of the move to the Big East. “(The Atlantic 10) was a great challenge for us and prepared us well for the postseason. You couldn’t take any days off, and I’m sure (the Big East) will be the same way.”
Dunham obviously would rather be preparing for his own Sweet 16 matchup later this week than reminiscing about the end of his freshman season. But he enjoyed his first taste of the NCAA tournament. He had fun watching a horde of Butler fans travel to watch the team in Lexington, and he enjoyed watching the other teams at the Bulldogs’ site — including No. 1 overall seed Louisville.
Even after Saturday’s loss, Dunham has done his best to keep track of the tournament.
“I’ll watch a few games here and there,” he said. “It’s still March Madness. And I’m hoping to get back soon.”