Men’s basketball overcomes early mediocrity, develops into ASC powerhouse

9 months ago
Pablo Juarez
Sports Editor

Dapo Ogunfeitimi stepped foot on UTD’s court for the first time as an incoming freshman. His eyes immediately became fixed on one thing — the basketball championship banners hanging from the rafters.

The senior guard said he knew at that point he wanted to become part of the program’s winning tradition.


Advertisement


The men’s basketball team is arguably the most successful program in UTD history. They are the school’s only team to reach an NCAA tournament “Elite Eight” along with multiple “Sweet 16” appearances.

But for the first five seasons following the program’s founding in 1998, the team struggled to win consistently, posting records well below .500 in four of those years. The program made a change at the helm during that time span which laid the building blocks for turning the team into a regional and national powerhouse.

In 2000, Terry Butterfield was hired as the men’s basketball head coach. In only his third season as head coach, he was named the ASC East Division Coach of the Year. His passionate outbursts from the sideline during games became a prominent fixture of UTD basketball.

“Coach Butterfield behind the scenes … oh man,” Ogunfeitimi said. “He’s a great coach. Out of any coach that I’ve ever played for throughout my years of playing basketball, he’s one of the best at drawing out the X’s and O’s. Every game he comes in with a game plan from top to bottom. I can’t say that I’ve ever stepped onto the floor of a game here and have not been given all the keys to be successful during the game.”

Since 2006, the program has yet to undergo a losing season. During that time, they’ve made 10 consecutive trips to the ASC tournament. The program’s peak years were in 2008 and 2009 when they went to the “Elite Eight” and “Sweet 16” in back-to-back seasons.

Former Comet guard and now Assistant Men’s Basketball coach Jared Fleming said players from those teams still stay in contact with each other. Fleming, despite playing on both of those teams, had two unique experiences.

In 2008, his senior season, he appeared in every single game but only logged 260 minutes, roughly 8.4 minutes per contest. In 2009, his duties were expanded in part because he was the only experienced guard on the team. His minutes nearly quadrupled and his scoring average soared from 2.8 to 11.4 points per game.

“I had a great playing career and a great time,” he said. “I played all four years there. We had a lot of success. I had a great time playing for Coach Butterfield (as) a point guard. He puts a lot on his point guards to run the team, be a leader and I embraced that role. My teammates that I played with … we still talk everyday. I thought the overall experience was great.”

In 2014, the team once again won the conference title and advanced to the “Sweet 16” in nail-biting fashion by drilling a three-point buzzer beater against Whitworth College. That team had a short run and was unable to recreate their magic after several veterans graduated and those remaining were decimated with injuries.

Ogunfeitimi, who was only a freshman on that year’s team, said he feels like he’s been a part of two completely different eras.

“My freshman year it was a very veteran dominant team,” he said. “This past year we were just a bunch of young guys. There were no seniors on the team. At the beginning of the (year), the season was kind of just up in the air. No one knew how it was going to go.”

Now as a solidified starter with three years under his belt, Ogunfeitimi said that the groundwork for another title run has already been put in place.

“We didn’t lose anybody (from last season),” Ogunfeitimi said. “(Last year) we had the talent (and) the heart but we didn’t have true experience. Now we have a year of experience under out belts and that will definitely be something we utilize this coming season.”