- Associated Press - Friday, December 3, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Butler’s Matt Howard still savors all those precious moments he shared with his teammates over the last eight months.

There was the team trip to the Indianapolis 500, the introduction at Manning Bowl II, the chance to see Gordon Hayward’s name called in the NBA draft and, of course, the unveiling of Butler’s first Final Four banner.

Yes, it’s been an incredible ride since Butler and Duke last met in April’s national championship game _ a game that has opened a whole new world for the small school from Indianapolis that pushed the Blue Devils to the final seconds before losing 61-59.

“It used to be when you told people you played for Butler, and they weren’t from Indiana, you had to explain where that was,” Howard said. “Now, they all say, ‘You have a chance to win the national championship here.’ A lot of what happened last season has really helped our program.”

Somehow, the Bulldogs have enjoyed the spoils of winning a national championship without actually winning it.

Players and coaches have earned celebrity status in this basketball-crazed state, and many fans still insist the Bulldogs won something more important than a national title _ the hearts and respect of the college basketball world.

Suddenly, opponents that once feared losing to Butler would ruin their reputation don’t view things the same way now.

On Saturday, Butler and Duke meet in a rematch in East Rutherford, N.J. The last time these teams met in the regular-season, 2003, Duke wouldn’t play anywhere but Durham, N.C. Two weeks from now, Stanford visits Butler in the first regular-season game ever televised by CBS from historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Louisville asked Butler to be the opening act when the Cardinals opened their new arena last month in return for a trip to Hinkle, and next season, Butler will play Indiana’s two most prestigious basketball schools, Purdue and Indiana.

“We’re close to where we want to be,” coach Brad Stevens said. “What we’re trying to do is maybe play a few more home games that we don’t have to return.”

Better scheduling wasn’t the only measurable windfall Butler got from its astounding NCAA tournament run.

Stevens spent two days in San Antonio this summer working alongside national coach of the year Jim Boeheim, Jeff Capel and Bruce Weber at the under-18 USA Basketball Team Trials. Two months after Stevens‘ wife negotiated a 12-year contract extension, his services were in such demand that he signed with IMG Worldwide, the sports media and marketing powerhouse.

Guard Shelvin Mack also was one of 20 players selected to the USA Basketball Select Team that practiced against America’s National Team.

The tourney run also helped Butler with recruiting.

Cody Zeller, the favorite to win Mr. Basketball this season, listed Butler, Indiana and North Carolina as his finalists. He eventually picked the Hoosiers.

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