Da’Sean Butler Still Brings A Ray Of Sunshine To West Virginia Basketball
Outside the West Virginia University basketball facility Friday’s gray skies were getting ready to unleash a downpour, as it seems it does every Friday and Saturday around these parts.
Inside, though, there was nothing but sunshine.
Coach Bob Huggins had gathered his fantasy camp together, an annual event for the rich and not-so-famous who get a chance to use their elbows against each other on the court and rub elbows with any number of West Virginia celebrities.
Huggins has brought back the elite of the elite over the years; Jerry West, Hot Rod Hundley, Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones and on and on and this year the list certainly wasn’t lacking with Alex Ruoff and Maurice Robinson and even a surprise guest in Moundsville’s own Teddy Valentine, the most flamboyant of today’s officials who is going strong at 60 and was willing to share his tales with the campers.
But the brightest ray of sunshine was a beaming Da’Sean Butler, a true Mountaineer hero who was brought to school by John Beilein and nurtured into an All-American by Huggins, whose last minute on the court produced that disastrous knee injury in the national semifinal against Duke that had Huggins bent over him, face to face, offering the love and support that you don’t often associate with a coach often known for his toughness.
It has been quite a journey for Butler since he had that magical 2010 season in which WVU won 31 games, including beating Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Georgetown in the Big East Tournament by 54-51, 53-51 and 60-58 scores.
Butler hit an amazing six game-winning shots in that season, including two in those three Big East Tournament games, and one in the final game of the regular season to beat Villanova, a shot he still laughs about today.
People say that Butler’s reputation for last-second heroics had brought a double-team to him and center Deniz Kilicli was open for an easy layup before Butler launched his prayer. Asked if he had seen Kilicli or seen the film, he laughed and replied:
“I still can’t see it. I remember he told me, and I said, ‘Oh, really?’ And from time to time he brings it up and I say ‘I still can’t see it.’ It was a Hail Mary, I’ll say that, and he was close. He brings it up all the time, that I could have passed the ball.”
But when it’s your turn, it’s your turn.
There was another shot, one that beat Marquette, that became something of a WVU legend for it was said Butler called the shot, as if he were playing a game of H-O-R-S-E.
He won’t confirm or deny that, again with a coy smile.
“Once again, if people tell you it happened, it happened. I don’t want to ruin their story. It all works out. It worked out that year,” he said.
Everything but that moment when he drove the baseline in the Duke game and the knee popped so loudly it sounded like a firecracker going off.
It was a graceless end to a wonderful career at WVU, one for while Butler remains thankful today.
“I was super happy to get a chance to go to college. I wasn’t a straight-A student. John Beilein gave me a chance to do something extreme well. He thought I was a good person and everything worked out well,” Butler said.
“I was always thankful to him for giving me that chance.”
But much of what Butler did he did himself, driving himself to become the player he was.
Once the knee injury came Butler faced a long, hard physical rehabilitation as well as a mental one, for he was a kid who had just seen the ice cream fall out of the cone he was holding and had no money to buy another one.
What was the process?
“I don’t really know,” he said.
And when asked how he got over it, he shrugged.
“I don’t know if I am over it. I have no clue,” he said.
The emotional scars are the ones you can’t see, but they take longer to heal.
“I felt something happened. I tried my best to come back from it. I found a place I could come back to and just rehab and relax and get my thoughts in order for my G.A. year. I love to coach, but I like to play a little bit more.
“It helps that I had a kid and I wanted to make a little bit more money. So I decided rehab and get better and play.”
He tried the D-League but suffered yet another injury there, one that left his career dangling.
“I didn’t want to go out on terms where I didn’t play well or wasn’t happy with the way I played. I went to the D League and got hurt and I just didn’t that want to be the end of the story,” he said.
Once he rehabbed again he went off to Europe, played three years in Germany, one in France and one in Belgium and now is looking to sign for another season.
He has put the past in the past, never wondering what might have been.
“Not in the past four years, anyway,” Butler said. “Everything is good. I have a family, two boys, and I’m glad they get to come overseas and watch me play. They are into things and I’m a dad, I go to Tee Ball games now.”
The return trips into Morgantown are pure joy for him.
He sees people who mean something to him. He understands that the game he plays is just that.
“It’s basketball. It’s not like a doctor and saving lives, but we have situations that cause a ton of stress in games. We all come together and help each other through those situations. You come closer through those practices, a guy makes a mistake and the entire team has to flip a tire and that makes the camaraderie grow,” he said.
“These are your family now. I was talking to Coach [Erik] Martin about this. These individuals tend to be some of the first people you call or talk to or want to see. Coach Huggins is pretty cool, allowing us to come back, a family thing.”