INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Butler guard Kamar Baldwin spent his first two seasons working in relative silence.
He was content scoring points, dishing out assists, defending hard and keeping quiet around more experienced players.
This year, the Bulldogs need Baldwin to add a few other things to his repertoire like speaking up and speaking out. It may not be the most natural transition for the soft-spoken junior from Georgia, but it's a step he must make if the Bulldogs hope to contend for a Big East title and make it back to the NCAA Tournament.
"Did he tell you that? Did you believe him?" coach LaVall Jordan joked when told Baldwin promised to be more vocal this season. "I'd say guys generally don't talk for one of two reasons either they don't know or they don't care. He's been here long enough to know and he definitely cares. He's passionate about this game and he wants to win."
Nobody doubts Baldwin's skills.
But over the last two seasons the 6-foot-1 guard tended to lean on Kelan Martin as the top scoring threat and Tyler Wideman to be the physical presence inside, knowing both could get younger players to follow their lead.
Now that job falls to Baldwin a two-year starter and one of the best all-around players to suit up for the Bulldogs. Baldwin is one of the few freshmen who worked his way into the starting lineup and continued to thrive as a sophomore.
He starts this season with the fourth-highest, two-season scoring total (893 points) in Butler history and was selected to last year's Big East all-tournament team. His scoring average jumped from 10.1 points to 15.7, his assist total more than doubled, his rebounding improved and he's averaging more 1.5 steals per game during his career.
And the supporting cast looks pretty good, too.
Starters Aaron Thompson and Sean McDermott both return as does guard Paul Jorgensen, a part-time starter last season. Forwards Nate Fowler and Joey Brunk add size as their minutes increase and then there's the wild card 6-foot-7 forward Jordan Tucker, a transfer from Duke who becomes eligible in December.
But Baldwin understands that for the Bulldogs to succeed, he needs to find his voice.
"I want to be a more vocal leader," he said. "It's something I'm working on."
Jordan acknowledged this season will be different. It's the first time he's ever started a second season in the same place as a head coach.
"I think voices have picked up because they know what to expect from the staff," Jordan said. "They know what's coming in terms of a practice plan, they know what to expect in terms of meetings, so they can get each other organized a little more because of that."
Everybody's eager to see what Tucker adds after sitting out the second semester last season and the first semester this season. Tucker played just two games with the Blue Devils, scoring 12 points. Even Jordan isn't entirely sure what to expect because he said Tucker spent more time working on the scout team last year, running opposing offenses, than working in the Bulldogs' system. But he was considered a top 75 recruit coming out of high school and Jorgensen believes Tucker will fit right in.
"He's a great kid who can really shoot the basketball," said Jorgensen, who helped convince Tucker to join the Bulldogs. "He's big and he brings size to us."
IN THE MIDDLE
With Wideman gone, the Bulldogs will ask Fowler and Brunk to do the dirty work inside. Fowler, a 6-10 junior, is a natural scorer and added strength to improve as a rebounder. Brunk, a 6-11 redshirt sophomore, was a prized recruit out of Indianapolis who already likes getting physical and now will get a chance to play more minutes. The Bulldogs like using big guys to stretch the floor and stress rebounding as a group a tradition Fowler and Brunk hope to continue.
Butler opens the season Nov. 10 against Miami (Ohio) and faces Mississippi, Dayton, Indiana and Florida in non-conference games. There's also a potential showdown with Virginia in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The biggest home game will be Jan. 22 when defending national champion Villanova visits Indy. But they close the regular season with a brutal five-game stretch: at Marquette on Feb. 20, home against Providence on Feb. 26, at Villanova on March 2, home against Xavier on March 5 and at Providence on March 9.