It’s time to embrace our role as the villains

In today’s college basketball landscape, you could go to just about every mid-major school in the country and find the same, white bread identity. Whether it’s through the university marketing to the public, listening to the play-by-play commentator, or the head coach talking in post game press conferences, the message is always the same – we’ve got a great group of kids, they work hard on the court and in the classroom. They’re the kind of kids you want to take your daughter to a nice dinner at Olive Garden, because you know they’ll have her back at your front door at 10:00 p.m. They represent the university and the community well.

That’s all well and good, but you can’t run from yourself. Not everybody can be vanilla Superman, fighting for truth, justice and the American way. Not everybody can be John Cena, pushing Hustle, Loyalty, Respect and shrugging off beatdowns in the ring to win – again and again and again. The same is true in basketball, yet so many programs eat it up. It’s as if Hulk Hogan is the athletic director at every school – well, Hulk Hogan circa 1985, not 2015. Eat your vitamins, say your prayers, it’s the Insert-Your-School-Here Way.

That’s not us. We’ve never been the perfect example of how you want a program to be. We never fit the Butler Way. We are, in many cases, the antithesis of it. It’s why we played such a great foil for the Bulldogs for their last decade in the Horizon League. Hell, even our school color is Black.

Our players have attitudes. This isn’t something that came to Milwaukee with Matt Tiby. Go back through the history of our program. For every good guy Matt Howard at Butler, there’s a showboating Anthony Hill. A.J. Graves quietly goes about hitting three pointers? There’s Avery Smith, knocking down the most awful-looking floaters you’ve ever seen and punctuating it with an exclamation point punch in the air. Avo, Ant Hill, Jordan Aaron, Kaylon Williams, Joah Tucker, Ed McCants, and a myriad of others came before. Matt Tiby, Akeem Springs and J.J. Panoske are simply picking up the torch of Panthers who piss off other teams’ fans.

Our coach can blow up at the referees at the drop of a pin. Rob Jeter is a very respectful guy in the press conferences, at the luncheons, pretty much anywhere away from the court. Once he’s on the floor, though, he will fight you on the moon if he thinks you’ve gone over the line for one of his guys. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard a 60-something old codger yell “Sit down!” or “Shut up Coach!” at Jeter for ripping off his jacket and berating a zebra. There’s not a lot of respect for a man who is within a few years’ shouting distance of Perry Watson’s all-time Horizon League victories record.

Bruce Pearl was the ultimate slick used car salesman (aw, I just realized the irony of this reference). Before he was even our coach he pulled some shady moves on another shady character in Jimmy Collins. Pearl spent four years calling people out like he was being interviewed by Mean Gene. Our fans, our players, our community loved him, but that’s just it – we were the only ones that did. Bo Ryan? He’s a mean coach on the sidelines, but my favorite anecdote about him was from one of the former managers – he would get so angry in practice that managers and players called him ‘Satan.’ Jeter? He was the ‘Son of Satan.’ You can’t make that up.

Fans from other teams tend to revel in our failures and are more bothered by our success than the success of others. How many times have I gotten the long distance taunt from rival schools’ fans? They don’t want to see us happy. And it’s not like they don’t want to see us win because it means they lose – I mean they’d rather see other schools win than Milwaukee. That’s because we’re arrogant, we have attitudes, and we get under their skin.

And just as we played the perfect foil for Butler for a decade, today we’re looking across the floor at Valparaiso. And Valpo’s Crusaders – with their low-rent Butler Way, geriatric do-gooder fan base and that ridiculous Richard Nixon victory sign – are the perfect good guys. The whole school looks like they’re at the basketball game merely to get good seats for post-game bible study. Hustle, Loyalty, Respect. Valpo is John Cena – one of the best in the game but so sweet they’ll make your teeth rot.

Meanwhile, our fans have come close to running a referee out of the gym. Our team ruined Green Bay’s last and greatest shot at an NCAA Tournament, and we danced on their court while their fans shuffled out of the building – we hadn’t even won anything yet. I distinctly remember a group of us laughing at a GB student who cried in his seat after the loss. It didn’t matter that he spent the entire game lobbing fat jokes at me, we’re still bad people. I even have a grin across my face just remembering that kid’s anguish. If you’re an opposing fan reading this, can you honestly say that I’ve never pissed you off, caused you to roll your eyes or made you outright hate me? And I’m just a fan. Tiby deals with it at every game. When a Green Bay fan taunted Tiby from a few rows up while he was on the bench and Milwaukee was losing, he not-so-quietly mentioned that he should have brought his championship ring.

It doesn’t mean our players are bad kids. This isn’t the University of Miami circa 1987. Tiby, Springs, Panoske – they’re all good kids, all the way down the roster. They’re respectful guys who do their homework and work hard in practice. It’s just how the narrative plays out on the court. Springs pops the jersey and it gets under Joe Valpo’s skin. Tiby takes a charge, grins, gets up and starts clapping and cheering, and Bob Wright State goes on the message board and complains about that jerk. Panoske commits a hard foul at the rim and Billy GB is screaming bloody murder. It’s our role, and we play it beautifully.

Every program worth its salt has a calling card, an identity – and this is especially true at the mid-major level. Gonzaga would play anyone, anywhere. Butler has the Butler Way. VCU wreaked Havoc.

Milwaukee? We’re the villains. We’re the team that Horizon League schools love to watch lose, and the one they hate to see win. What’s the point of trying to talk about how hard our guys work on the court and in the classroom? That’s not our identity. That’s a given, or at the very least it should be.

We are the villains. Let everyone else eat their vitamins and say their prayers. Just revel in being the bad guys every time our boys walk into someone else’s gym. The boos raining down on the true Black and Gold? It just fits us better.

Embrace the Villain.


If you’re a fan of another team and you’re steamed at anything written in this post, thanks for the validation. You should know it’s all in jest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *