HOUSTON -- What if I told you Butler's current mulligan run to the national championship game now largely depends on a secondary education major who turned down a Harvard scholarship?
What if I told you that same kid will guard the tournament's best player in the title game with a titanium rod implanted in each leg?
Or that he is the Bulldogs' best defender, despite losing his starting job?
You'd be numb to it like the rest of us, of course. The stories just keep tumbling out of the Butler locker room like drunks out of a bar at closing time. Coach Brad Stevens, the boy king. Half Fortune 500 CEO/half Wooden. The flopping, hopping, shoving, diving, scoring, rebounding circus act that is Matt Howard. Shelvin Mack, the Bulldogs' leading scorer during the nation-leading 14-game winning streak, not knowing his school has a football team.
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"That's why we got labeled a mid-major," Mack told reporters Sunday.
That would be news to the 2009 Pioneer League co-champions who play in Division I-AA.
"What I hope people are seeing is we're just a bunch of goofy college kids playing the game of basketball together," says the kid who comes off the bench with metal limbs but without a Harvard education. "I hope people don't see it's easy for Butler."
It's definitely not that. But we have to be numb to it by now. All of it. During a Final Four when a 5-foot-10 guard with a 50-inch vert from Illinois College can win the slam dunk contest, anything seems possible.
Including Ronald Nored.
You'll notice the junior guard Monday against Connecticut. Look close for the scars. He's the one with recurring stress fractures so severe that he finally had surgery on June 16 to insert those titanium rods in each leg from knee to ankle. That was following the season during which Nored was the Horizon League's Co-Defensive Player of the Year. That surgery followed the first of two consecutive summers during which basketball activity was limited, the stress fractures were so painful.
"The kids' X-ray looked like he was playing on a broken leg," Butler trainer Ryan Galloy said.
The college basketball world will see a lot of him Monday because Nored is going to be guarding UConn's Kemba Walker. Well, not totally. Nored actually lost his job when he gashed his hand on the scorer's table in February at Youngstown State. While the stitched left hand healed -- Nored still played, mind you -- Stevens decided to start sophomore Chase Stigall. The Bulldogs haven't lost since. If only for mojo purposes, Stevens isn't about to change. Senior Shawn Vanzant will share the duties on Walker, among others. But Nored remains the team's best defender and the Bulldog with the toughest body.
We know this because the 6-foot, 174-pound guard wasn't altogether over the leg surgery until he conked heads with a Siena player in late November.
"It was the best thing he did," Galloy said of what turned out to be a concussion. "He'd gotten pretty sore. That was maybe a month into the regular season. Sat out 10 days. Came back feeling great."
We know this because in Nored's locker Sunday, next to his iPhone, were several strips of "adhesive dressing." The metal body parts led to someone's anonymous creation of an alter ego Twitter account, "@ron5robot", which has been known to tweet in binary code.
"We're all 18-23 years old," Nored said. "I think that automatically puts you in goofy college kid category."
During last year's run Nored went up against the likes of Kansas State's Denis Clemente and Michigan State's Durrell Summers. On Saturday, VCU's Joey Rodriguez had been averaging double figures in the tournament until meeting Butler's defense. Rodriguez missed seven of his eight shots and had a personal tournament-low three points.
Nored played against Walker twice in AAU. Guarded him, actually. But memories fade and point totals are forgotten. All Nored remembers is two losses. UConn's Roscoe Smith kind of summarized the matchup when told about who will guard Kemba on Monday.
"Butler never tried to recruit me, they're a mid-major school, you know?" Smith said. "They don't really try to get the big-time players because the big-time players probably don't go to their school. One thing about Butler, they just know how to win. They're an old-fashioned team."
Well, not totally. Nored turned down that Harvard offer because he "wanted to be part of something special." What's more special than an Ivy League education? Well, there's special in chasing a national championship and there's special in setting yourself up for life. Crimson coach Tommy Amaker brought the fastball telling Nored, according to the player, that the average Harvard grad makes $300,000 per year.
"I was like, 'Maybe I need to be going to Harvard,'" Nored said.
A Duke legend wanted him to go to Harvard. His mother wanted him to go to Harvard. He didn't, of course, even after being kicked out of the gym by Stevens in high school. Nored's uncle had taken Nored to Hinkle Fieldhouse to shoot around one July. Stevens, then an assistant, gently reminded him that non-players weren't allowed. But when it came time to recruit him, Stevens jumped in his car and drove the 490 miles to Homewood, Ala. to make a pitch. Nored had committed to Western Kentucky but opted out when the coach left.
"I was like, 'I ain't passing up on this,'" Nored said. "He showed me the Butler values. It just kind of fit the life that I live, the person that I am ... I didn't come here to be a starter. I came here to win basketball games. I came here to be part of a tradition. I didn't see that in a lot of other schools, to be able to play for a coach who, in my opinion, is the best in the country."
They don't hurt, the titanium rods, until he is shoved out of bounds and lands on his knees, which happened, rather violently, Saturday night against VCU. Nored limped, wincing, to the bench, only to return. In his career, he has averaged five points per game. They call those "glue guys", the kind that hold teams together even after surgery holds them together.
"He's playing his best basketball," Stevens said, "right now."