Butler's Holtmann leads team through adversity

Ever since he took over for Brandon Miller, who resigned suddenly because of his own health problems, Butler coach Chris Holtmann has been impressed with his players' resilience.

But he worries that resilience is being pushed to its limits.

On Monday, just weeks after former Butler star Andrew Smith lost his battle with cancer, the six-month-old son of assistant coach Emerson Kampen died from a rare genetic disease.

"It's been really difficult,'' Holtmann told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "We've all tried to handle the human element of all this as best we can and be as real as we can. The guys have done an incredible job, fighting to figure this thing out in the Big East, but it's been incredibly hard.''

Butler, once ranked as high as No. 9, has lost three of six since Smith's passing and is now 15-7 overall and 4-6 in the Big East.

Holtmann, who has shepherded the Bulldogs through the tumultuous coaching change a year ago and now the deaths of both Smith and Emerson "Little Em" Kampen IV, said he is considering bringing in grief counselors for his players and perhaps even for himself.

"I've cried more in the last month, month and a half than, I have in the last five years,'' he said. "I have seen some really sad and awful stuff happen to some really good people.''

Around the same time that Smith was in the final days of his battle with cancer, Kampen gathered the team in the locker room after practice. A teammate of Smith's, Kampen was a walk-on to the two Butler Final Four teams -- the one who loved to chest bump Brad Stevens after big NCAA Tournament wins. He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant, but when Holtmann was hastily promoted to replace Miller, he named Kampen an assistant.

A little after Christmas Kampen and his wife, Kylie, concerned about their son's development, took Little Em in for genetic testing. The results were devastating. Little Em had Leigh's disease, a rare and terminal disease that affects the central nervous system.

When he got the news, Emerson asked to address the Bulldog team.

"He couldn't say nearly as much as he wanted, couldn't get through it,'' Holtmann said. "Our guys were just bawling. It really impacted them.''

Kampen initially hoped that Little Em could live with the disease for some time, but on Sunday morning, the baby started to struggle. Holtmann and his wife, Lori, went to the hospital, and Holtmann remembered Little Em opened his eyes briefly, just as Kampen glanced over.

"He said, 'Hey, Em, Hey,'' Holtmann said. "And I think that gave him a little hope.''

But that evening, Little Em suffered a prolonged seizure and died on Monday.

Holtmann shared the news of Little Em's passing after the Bulldogs beat Georgetown, holding back tears during his postgame news conference.

"I have an even greater appreciation for the connectedness of this program, how connected all of the former players are to the guys they played with, and even the ones they didn't play with,'' Holtmann said. "We have been through a few years that no program would want to go through.''