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July 6, 2013

These are brutal days for Butler, Indiana college hoops fans

State loses another of its brightest stars to the NBA.

For many years at the Kokomo Tribune, our April 1 edition carried an outlandish front page story that jumped to an inside page before revealing the “gotcha” line. The reader had been had. The story was a hoax. April Fools Day!

One of my favorite stories was published in 1962. After Kokomo won the boys state basketball championship one year earlier, the ’62 team went to the Final Four only to lose 74-73 to East Chicago.

Kokomo fans were certain star Jim Ligon was fouled on a last second shot in that heart-breaking loss. So, a couple of weeks later when April 1 rolled around the Tribune announced on Page 1 that IHSAA film showed Ligon was indeed fouled and the situation was going to be rectified. Ligon was going to be awarded free throws at the south end of Butler (Hinkle) Fieldhouse with only coaches, game and IHSAA officials watching. Needless to say, Ligon never shot the free throws and Kokomo did not win its second state championship. The cruelest of hoaxes was laid out in the story’s final paragraph on Page 4.

Wednesday afternoon when I heard the news that Brad Stevens was leaving Butler for the Boston Celtics, my first thought was of those old April Fools Day stories. Surely, this was a joke. Surely it was an errant e-mail, text or tweet run amok.

In 40 years of working in the news business, never was I as surprised by a breaking sports story as the “Brad Stevens decision.” Never has a coaching change anywhere landed a punch in the gut like this one. Not even Bob Knight’s dismissal compared to this. Hey, we all knew that was going to happen sooner or later, right?

I feel badly not only for Butler fans, but for college basketball in general. This team and this Butler/Stevens story was embraced not only by Bulldog fans, but by fans of all sports across our country. Now, his exit makes it like reading a great novel that ends mid-sentence on page 136.

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