West Virginia’s Butler has a senior moment
INDIANAPOLIS – The folks who say the 2010 Final Four lacks star power should’ve seen Da’Sean Butler on Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Shortly after West Virginia concluded its practice in front of about 20,000 fans, Butler made his way back to the court for the presentation of the Lowe’s Senior Class Award. It was a fitting honor for the Mountaineers’ standout guard.
And Butler spent the next 15 minutes proving it.
T-shirts, basketballs, caps and programs. As the rest of his teammates headed back to their hotel, Butler stuck around and obliged nearly every youngster who dangled a souvenir over the railing to be autographed.
Heck, he even posed for a picture with a fan from Duke, the school West Virginia plays in Saturday’s NCAA national semifinals.
“I’m loving this,” Butler said as he signed away.
Perhaps that’s because he never expected it.
The biggest name in the Final Four wasn’t even supposed to be here – or least no one would’ve guessed he would be four years ago.
Back then Butler was an obscure high school recruit in New Jersey who had been passed over by Big East bottom-feeders such as Rutgers, St. John’s and Seton Hall. Former West Virginia coach John Beilein took a chance on Butler, though, and because of it, the Mountaineers are two wins away from the school’s first national title.
“He’s our leader,” forward Cam Thoroughman said. “No player in the country is as good in the clutch as Day-Day.”
Some athletes dream of hitting just one game-winning shot during their career.
Butler has made six of them this season.
His latest came in a 60-58 victory over Georgetown in the championship game of the Big East tournament. The victory helped West Virginia earn a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance and gave the Mountaineers a jolt of confidence at the most crucial point of the season.
West Virginia, 31-6, has won its four NCAA tournament games by an average of 11.5 points. Included in that mix is last week’s 73-66 victory over No. 1 seed and Final Four favorite Kentucky.
“Obviously,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said, “we wouldn’t be here without Da’Sean.”
Before arriving at West Virginia, Butler starred at Bloomfield Tech, which is one of the better small schools in New Jersey. Even though he was an all-state selection and a 1,000-point scorer, he was never a target of the colleges close to home.
Butler had all but decided to attend St. Joseph’s until coach Phil Martelli told him he didn’t have anymore scholarships. So Butler ended up at West Virginia, where he hoped to flourish in Beilein’s system offense.
“It was good that I ended up in Morgantown because it’s not a huge city,” Butler said. “There aren’t a lot of distractions, so I can focus all my attention on basketball.”
Bob Huggins was hired to replace Beilein after Butler’s freshman season, but the change hardly affected Butler’s attitude or goals. Instead of rejecting Huggins’ brash and often abrasive coaching style, Butler embraced it.
The 6-foot-7 Butler averaged 12.9 points as a sophomore and 17.1 points the following year. This season he touts a team-high scoring average of 17.8 points a game. Syracuse’s Wesley Johnson and Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds were the top two vote-getters for Big East Player of the Year.
In retrospect, the winner probably should’ve been Butler.
Even though his scoring stats are similar to the ones he produced as a junior, Butler has been much more productive in late-game situations in 2009-10. He’s playing more minutes and his shooting percentage has increased in the final minutes.
The commitment Butler made during the offseason to getting in shape is one of the main reasons for his improvement. Butler said he spent an hour a day on the StairMaster and completely changed his junk food-laden diet.
A few years ago, Butler couldn’t even bench press 200 pounds. Now he can push more than 300.
In a tournament that is lacking when it comes to future first-round NBA draft picks, Butler is one player that appears to have a chance of being a bonafide star at the next level.
“There are a few concerns about his quickness and his ball-handling,” an NBA scout said earlier this week. “Those are the two areas that might hurt him. But he’s shown an ability to score the basketball, and he’s got good size on him, a good body. He’s obviously a good leader.”
Butler hopes he can enhance that reputation even more during Saturday’s semifinal against Duke. Still, win or lose, Butler’s college career has somewhat mirrored West Virginia’s team this season. Butler has done more than meet his expectations during the last four years.
He’s surpassed them.