Lessons Learned, Da’Sean Butler Now Passes Them Along to Others
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When Da’Sean Butler arrived at West Virginia in 2006, he didn’t understand the amount of work he would need to put in to succeed – or excel – on the college level. Playing his first year under John Beilein, Butler performed well, averaging 10 points in 23 minutes per game as a freshman, but he was far from the player he would become. While Bob Huggins, who took over as head coach prior to Butler’s sophomore year, has to be credited for some of that development, so too were players a year or two ahead of him on the team. As he watched, learned and put the things he picked up into practice, he continued the cycle of development that continues at WVU to this day.
“I saw how much work Alex Ruoff put into it, Joe Alexander, Darris [Nichols], all those guys,” Butler said. “They had to sit me down and let me know that you had to put work in. I bought in and then it picked up. I just didn’t know much about it when I got here.”
Butler was like many high school all stars arriving in college – players who thought they were working, but had prospered in high school as much on talent as they did on improvement via work ethic. So much so, in fact, that Butler is now one of Huggins’ go-to examples whenever he wants to make a point to his current team about the need to get in the gym and work on their own. A staple of Huggs’ postgame comments is bringing up standout performers like Butler and Kevin Jones, and pointing out that they didn’t just become great players magically. They worked tirelessly, with as much individual time in the gym as that with the team, to hone their all-around crafts.
Although it took a while, Butler got the same message, from both Huggins and his older teammates.
“I think I got better from the end of my freshman year to my sophomore year. I got infinitely better in many different aspects of the game,” he described. “I felt like I got better on both sides of the court, as opposed to just shooting the ball.”
The numbers bear him out. Certainly, his freshman stats were good, but he went on an immediate upward arc in several other play phases. After grabbing just 3.5 rebounds per game during his freshman year, he boosted that number to 6.2 his sophomore season, and kept it above that total for the rest of his career. His free throw shooting arced upward, progressing from 66.3 as a freshman to 78.9 as a senior. He became a good passer, tripling his assist total over the same span. In almost every aspect of the game, the work in the offseason led to improvements on it — so much so, that he’s a very likely WVU Hall of Fame first ballot electee when he becomes eligible in 2020.
It’s a lesson that has to be taught again and again, though, as high schooler make their moves to the collegiate ranks. It’s also part of the legacy of alums at West Virginia, and something that Butler tries to impart when he’s back on campus. He will be at WVU over the summer to continue working on his own game, as many former Mountaineers are, and while there he’ll try to impart some of that hard-won wisdom to West Virginia’s incoming class.
Those sorts of interactions are common during “open gym” sessions, where former, current and future Mountaineers work out and play over the summer. Below, Jordan McCabe gets a bit of schooling from Tarik Phillip.
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Butler will jump in with his own lessons, but is careful not to interfere with sessions where the current team goes five-on-five.
“I do it half and half in the sense I don’t just want to sit there and tell them how to do stuff. I play, but I don’t want to get in the way. I do let them know it’s going to be tough. It can be rewarding and fun, but it’s tough.”
Butler’s lessons had to come during his first year on campus, as the practice of summer sessions and open gyms, with newcomers arriving early for summer school, wasn’t prevalent during his time. The construction of the new basketball practice facility has helped immeasurably in that regard, as it give both the men’s and women’s programs unfettered access to courts, and also allows graduates and alumni places to work on their games over the summer in preparation for upcoming professional seasons.
Butler, who has played professionally in Latvia, Belgium, France and Germany, is one of a number of WVU graduates making use of the facility, but while doing so they are also making sure to pass down the lessons they learned during their time at West Virginia.