• U.S.

Sport: Fierce Little Butler

3 minute read

Paul (“Tony”) Hinkle is a man of frightening versatility. In addition to being athletic director at Indiana’s Butler University (undergraduate enrollment: 1,900), Hinkle is an author, TV commentator, lecturer and Indianapolis civic leader. A trim 63, he manages Butler’s baseball team; to make sure the playing field is in top shape, he plows, seeds and rakes it himself. In the fall he coaches football, and his teams have lost only one game in the past three years. But for Hinkle, these activities are merely sidelines. In the winter he knuckles down to his main job: coaching Butler’s basketball team—year after year, one of the best small-college squads in the U.S.

There is nothing small time about Butler basketball. More than 7,300 fanatic Hoosiers fight their way into the Butler gym for each home game, anxious to see the local heroes ambush visitors from the Big Ten and Missouri Valley Conference. They are rarely disappointed. In Tony Hinkle’s 33 years as head coach. Butler has won one national college championship, gone to the National Invitation Tournament twice, won 447 games against 286 losses. “There is nothing I fear more than going to Indianapolis to play Hinkle.” says Notre Dame Coach John Jordan, whose tough Irish squad took an 83-67 drubbing at South Bend earlier this month. Last week Hinkle’s Bulldogs were riding an eight-game winning streak, have happily whipped such highly rated foes as Bradley (80-77), Michigan (69-61) and Princeton (63-58).

Refugee from the Biddies. Coach Hinkle freely attributes some of his team’s success to the fact that big-time opponents are inclined to take little Butler too lightly. “We’re easy to underrate,” says Hinkle. “They take one look at the program, and they see that we don’t have a man over 6 ft. 6 in. Why, our starting team only averages 6 ft. 1 in.” Easiest of the Bulldogs to underestimate is Negro Guard Gerry Williams, who stands only 5 ft. 8 in. tall, weighs 145 Ibs.. and looks like a refugee from Biddy Basketball. But Williams’ scrawny legs are like steel springs. He can high-jump 6 ft. 6 in., enjoys nothing more than snatching a rebound out of the grasp of a startled enemy giant.

A home-town boy, Williams starred in basketball and track at Indianapolis’ Shortridge High School, but was ignored by the big-college coaches who control athletic scholarships. At Butler Williams was an instant success, last year he was the team’s leading scorer, set a sophomore record by netting 430 points. Bothered by a bruised heel most of this season, he still has averaged 15 points a game. At his best under pressure, he scored 30 against powerful Bradley, 26 against Notre Dame.

Opportunistic Offense. Dwarfed by almost every team they face, Hinkle’s toy Bulldogs concentrate on opportunistic “pattern” basketball. They badger opponents with a constant full-court press, patiently set up “give-and-go” plays designed to catch the defenders off guard, and spring a Butler player loose for a driving two-point layup. If they are unable to clear a path to the basket, they feed the ball back to Williams—whose one-hand ed jump shot from 15 ft. is among the most accurate “outside” shots in college basketball. So far this season, the whole Butler team is hitting the basket at a phenomenal 46% clip that has more than made up for defensive problems caused by Butler’s lack of height. Says Notre Dame’s Jordan: “Hinkle may not have the best material, but his kids always know what they are supposed to do.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com