Hometowns celebrate Butler heroes

April, 2, 2010
4/02/10
7:15
PM ET
ZIONSVILLE, Ind. -- Drew Kogan, an antiques and lighting dealer in this quaint town about 19 miles north of Indianapolis, opened a local phone book and started flipping through its pages on Friday.

"You know, you really picked a bad day," Kogan told me.

I spent a few hours Friday wandering the streets of Brownsburg, Ind., and Zionsville, Ind., which aren't far from Indianapolis, the center of the college basketball universe this weekend.

[+] EnlargeZionsville town square
Mark Schlabach/ESPN.comThe town square in Zionsville.
Brownsburg is the hometown of Butler University basketball star Gordon Hayward. Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens grew up in Zionsville.

On Saturday, Butler University will become the first team to play in the Final Four in its hometown since UCLA in 1972. The Bulldogs play Michigan State in Saturday's national semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Hayward and Stevens will have plenty of fans from their hometowns rooting for them against the Spartans.

"It's unbelievable," said Mary Grabianowski, 60, who taught Stevens both government and economics during his senior year at Zionsville Community High School in 1995. "Most Zionsville kids go to Indiana or Purdue, so we wear our black and gold and crimson and cream. But everybody is wearing Butler blue this week."

There wasn't a hint of March Madness along Zionsville's brick Main Street on Friday. A few shoppers wandered in and out of the antique stores and art galleries, but there was little traffic on an unseasonably warm spring day. But Stevens' fast rise among the ranks of college basketball's best coaches hasn't gone unnoticed in his hometown.

"It's big news," Kogan said. "It was on the front page of the newspaper this week."

A few of the teachers and coaches who helped nurture Stevens during his high school career attended Butler's open practice at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday.

""It's huge," Kogan said. "People that aren't even Butler fans are rooting for them. People around here are really Indiana University fans, but we're just rooting for Butler like crazy."

Stevens, 33, hasn't lived in Zionsville for more than a decade. He left as the high school's all-time leader in points scored, 3-point field goals made, assists and steals. Stevens was named MVP of a state sectional during his senior season, before his four-year career at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.

"He was an exceptional student," Grabianowski said. "He was sharp and polite. He was a nice guy, the kind of guy you want your daughter to marry."

[+] EnlargeBrownsburg, Indiana
Mark SchlabachHayward grew up less than 20 miles from the site of Saturday's Final Four matchup.
Hayward, 20, was a hometown hero before he became the Bulldogs' leading scorer and rebounder. As a senior at Brownsburg High School in 2008, Hayward made a buzzer-beating layup to defeat Marion 40-39 in the Class 4A state championship game. A team portrait of the 2008 Bulldogs hangs in the Team Sports sporting goods store on Main Street in Brownsburg, that is about 20 miles northwest of Indianapolis.

A few blocks away on Main Street, the marquee at Flap Jacks Pancake House reads, "Congrats Gordon Hayward ... Go Butler."

"Brownsburg is really passionate about basketball, young people and old people," Hayward said Friday. "There's always somebody playing basketball at Arbuckle Park."

Brownsburg High School was also closed for spring break on Friday.

Hayward now refers to his alma mater as "Brownsburg University."

"All the seniors have got laptops," he said. "I don't know where that was when I was in school."

Butler junior Matt Howard grew up in Connersville, Ind., which is about 66 miles east of Indy and not far from the Ohio border.

"It's a pretty small town," Howard said. "People are very receptive. Everybody pretty much knows everybody."

Connersville certainly knows about Howard. The local school system held "NCAA Spirit Day" on Thursday and Butler T-shirts have become the fashion statement of choice.

Howard, 21, is the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in Connersville High School history. He played his high school games in the Spartan Bowl and the school's mascot was a Spartan.

But on Saturday, everyone in Connersville and in towns like it across Indiana will be cheering for the Bulldogs.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

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