Kelly's growth leads Notre Dame down championship path

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Kelly's growth leads Notre Dame down championship path

The Associated Press named Brian Kelly its 2012 Coach of the Year Wednesday, completing a trifecta of major honors for the third-year Notre Dame coach. Kelly had already won the Home Depot Coach of the Year (ESPNABC) and Eddie Robinson Award (FWAA), earning recognition for Notre Dame's 12-0 season.

"When you're talking about the coach of the year, there's so many things that go into it," Kelly said Wednesday. "I know it's an individual award and it goes to one guy, but the feelings that I get from it is you're building the right staff, that you've got the right players and to me that is a validation of the program, that you put together the right business plan."

That business plan involved successfully growing with a quarterback who played a grand total of zero snaps at the collegiate level before he led Notre Dame on to the field in Dublin for the team's season opener. It involved Kelly, whose rise through the ranks was built on offense, fostering one of the nation's best defenses along with right-hand man Bob Diaco.

More importantly, it involved Kelly cultivating a trust with his players that didn't necessarily exist in his first two years.

"The first couple years I had to set a bar and a standard and an operation of the way we wanted things done on a daytoday basis. Sometimes that means that you got to be hard on some guys," Kelly said last month. "This third year was a year where you knew our guys knew exactly what was expected, and it allowed me to spend more time with my players and build those relationships that are so important to having great morale."

Gone are Kelly's purple-faced outbursts directed at players and foot-in-the-mouth comments that were sprinkled across a disappointing 2011 season. Those rubbed some players the wrong way -- Manti Te'o admitted that his relationship with Kelly was a little rough in the beginning.

"It was bumpy at first, but now it's great," Te'o said after Notre Dame beat USC in November. "I'm happy to have him as my coach. He's the best coach in college football."

Kelly navigated a minefield in September, coming out of the benching, insertion, benching, insertion and benching of a popular veteran with a 4-0 record and the support of his team. Those personal relationships and trust Kelly built likely paid off during the Tommy ReesEverett Golson saga that was the season's first month.

"I think the job tends to distract you," Kelly explained Monday. "There are a lot of things that pull you away from the primary reason why you want to be head coach of Notre Dame, and that is graduate your players and play for a national championship.

"Now, to do that you have to have the pulse of your football team and you've got to have relationships with your players. If you're already going around the country doing other things other than working with your football team, it's hard to have the pulse of your team."

Kelly made an effort to do more himself instead of delegating certain messages for assistants to direct to players. He loosened up a bit, too, allowing music to blare over the loudspeakers during portions of preseason practice.

Notre Dame doesn't achieve its success without players buying what Kelly was selling. That wasn't always the case -- look no further than the Pittsburgh game, after which T.J. Jones admitted some figured they could play their 'B' game and still win -- but in a 12-0 season, any other examples are the product of picking nits.

Big picture, few coaches are able to successfully implement a system as soon as they set foot on campus. Nick Saban went 6-6 in his first year at Alabama, while Lou Holtz went 5-6 and 8-4 in his first two years in South Bend. Getting over that hump isn't easy, but Kelly did that in 2012 -- and it's resulted in a BCS Championship berth.

"My development as the head coach at Notre Dame this year has been about getting back to why you would want to coach college players," Kelly said. "You want to learn about them, you want to know their strengths and weaknesses, you want to help them with leadership skills,. you want to help them when they're not feeling confident in their ability.

"For me, that is why it's been the most enjoyable year as the head coach at Notre Dame, is that I got a chance to spend more time with my team."

Jimmy Butler acknowledges 'huge accomplishment' but stays nonchalant about All-Star starter nod

Jimmy Butler acknowledges 'huge accomplishment' but stays nonchalant about All-Star starter nod

ATLANTA — Jimmy Butler insisted being a starter in the All-Star Game means next to nothing, but it seems to go against his never-ending battle for credibility and validation as a legit superstar.

Moments after it was revealed he would be an All-Star starter for the first time and make his third overall trip to All-Star weekend, he sang the same nonchalant tune.

"It hasn't changed at all," Butler said on a conference call Thursday evening. "Obviously, it's a huge accomplishment and honor to be named a starter. But it's All-Star weekend. There are going to be a lot of good players there. I guess it's just another name thrown in with some decent players."

The NBA's format for selecting the All-Star starters changed this season, with fans no longer being the sole group that gets to vote for starters. If it was still a fans-only vote, Philadelphia's Joel Embiid would've started in Butler's place.

But with the new formula that allows the media and the players to take part in the vote, the fan vote accounts for just 50 percent of the formula. So Butler joined Cleveland's LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Milwaukee's Giannis Antekounmpo and Toronto's DeMar DeRozan in the starting five for the Eastern Conference.

Butler's is averaging 24.8 points with 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists, career-highs across the board, and had he not been selected as a starter, the Bulls' 20-21 record would not have prevented coaches from selecting him as a reserve as they had the last two seasons.

[SHOP BULLS: Get a Jimmy Butler jersey right here]

He won't be joined in the starting lineup by Dwyane Wade, who finished second in backcourt voting behind Irving, but cast his vote for his teammate anyway and hopes Wade will be selected as a reserve.

"Of course. He's been a huge part of what we're doing here, and I think he has played extremely well the first part of the season," Butler said. "He got my vote. I will tell you that."

Golden State's Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will start for the West, along with Houston's James Harden, San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard and New Orleans' Anthony Davis, a Chicago native.

The fun-filled and busy weekend in New Orleans begins Feb. 17, from the league events to the parties to the festivities and then finally the All-Star Game on Sunday night.

Butler likely views it as more of an accomplishment for his team of trainers and confidants then himself.

"It's fun, man. You get to know the other really good players in the league, and you get to know a little bit about them," Butler said. "And the experience that you get to be a part of, whether it be the Jordan party or taking your guys with you everywhere. That's the most fun part for me, my trainers, my brothers, everybody that's behind the scenes helping me gets to experience it too."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bulls build around All-Star Jimmy Butler?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bulls build around All-Star Jimmy Butler?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune) and Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Jimmy Butler is an All-Star starter. Is he a superstar now meaning the Bulls have to build around him? The guys pose that question to Bulls great Horace Grant.

The Raiders want to move to Las Vegas. If your NFL team moved, should you keep rooting for them? Plus should the Cubs help Sammy Sosa out as his Hall of Fame chances get smaller?

Check out the SportsTalk Live Podcast below.