(Photo courtesy of Butler Athletics)

I didn't even have to get to the locker room to see how my teammates would respond to the loss.

When the shot first went in, I was sitting on the floor in disbelief about what had just happened. That's when Joel Cornette came by to console me and lift me up.

When I got to the locker room, the reaction was the same. Our head coach, Barry Collier, gave me a big hug and put his arms around me. My teammates all told me that this wasn't my fault.

Mike Marshall and Andrew Graves, our two seniors, both gave me encouragement. Rather than focusing on whether or not they would ever play again, they focused on how I was feeling. It was incredible.

And it's The Butler Way.

 
 

(Photo courtesy of Butler Athletics)

People ask me all the time how our program got to this point. Since 1996-1997, over the course of 22 seasons and 704 games, our program is exactly 300 games over .500 with 15 tournament appearances, 22 tournament wins and two trips to the Final Four. It's an incredible run of success sustained over six different coaches. So the question people ask is a good one...how was this possible at a little private school in Indianapolis?

It's because the core values of Butler and our program are passion, unity, servanthood, humility, thankfulness and accountability. Each of those traits is rooted in Christian values. Unity in our program is a reflection of the love our teammates and coaches have for one another, and love is the core tenant of Christianity. Servanthood and humility go hand in hand. It's about putting the team's accomplishments ahead of your own desires, and it's a model for how we should live for God's glory more than ourselves.

The Bible says that the exalted will be humbled, and the humbled will be exalted. When each of our players steps onto the court, they all know that it's not about them. It's about the guy on your left and right, and how they feel.

Even though Mike and Andrew weren't around the next year, they were one of the reasons I was able to rebound the way I did. In 2001, not only did we return to the tournament, we opened up with a 43-10 lead over Wake Forest as we broke our tournament drought.

I am so thankful I had teammates who understood that, because that was one of the toughest moments of my life. It wasn't just because I had missed the free throws. It was because I had to bury one of the women who had raised me, Jetha Jeffers, my great-aunt, the day before the game.

My family is extremely important to me. My grandma, JoAnn Mitchell, sang in the church choir, while me grandpa, Lloyd Mitchell, served as a deacon. My Aunt Jetha and Uncle Lige put me on the bus to Sunday School every Sunday. They all laid down the foundation for me to become a Christian, but it wasn't until 2010 that I got saved. It was a decade after my great-aunt's funeral, when I was going through something much more serious than missing some free throws, that I gave my life to the Lord.

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Thomas Hager