By Phil Kasiecki
Special to CSTV.com
Wins over Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee and Gonzaga in the NIT Season Tip-Off put Butler on the national radar for much of last season. The Bulldogs went on to win a school-record 29 games and reach the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. They were eliminated by eventual national champion Florida in their only loss to a team from a BCS conference all season.
While the team won games all year with fundamental basketball and good balance, senior guard A.J. Graves was probably the most visible member of the team. A starter since he was a freshman, when he led all Horizon League freshmen in scoring, Graves was a First Team All-Horizon League selection last year and an honorable mention All-America selection by the NABC and Associated Press. If anyone was the face of the program to the outside world, it was Graves, although all in the program know that's not of their doing.
"A.J. is a great representative of our team," said new head coach Brad Stevens, who was previously an assistant at the school for six years. "A.J. leads by example and is consistent in his approach, and he cares more about winning than individual accolades. It's not just important for him to do well, but for others to do well also."
His freshman season wasn't one of great success for a program that has had plenty of it over the last couple of decades, as it was the first losing season (13-15) in 12 years. But that has proven to be an anomaly, as the Bulldogs won 20 games in 2005-06 and a school-record 29 games last season. All the while, Graves has been the same player and person. His work ethic hasn't changed, and the improvements have continued both for him and the team.
"When I got here, there were no seniors," Graves recalled. "It's been nice to be part of this rebuilding process and get Butler basketball back to where it should be."
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