Butler Did It
UConn's Caron Butler shed his reticence to become the top scorer for the U.S. team
During the 2000-01 season, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim could see that Caron Butler, a 6'7" swingman for rival UConn, had prodigious talent, but he also noticed in him a quality rarely displayed by such a heralded freshman. "He was pretty conservative," Boeheim says. "He tried to fit in and not overdo anything." When he saw the same tendency last week in Dallas, where Butler and 13 of the nation's top collegians were preparing for this month's World Championship for Young Men in Japan, Boeheim, the U.S. coach, urged Butler to alter his approach. "Be more aggressive," Boeheim told him during a practice. "You're not here to be a role player. You're here to dominate."
Butler wasn't exactly a role player last season—he led the Huskies in scoring (with a 15.3-point average) and rebounding (7.6)—but his days as a reluctant star appear to be over. An explosive leaper, Butler led the U.S. in scoring with an 18.0-point average during the team's two exhibition wins last week over Lithuania and Yugoslavia. At Boeheim's prodding, Butler attempted a team-high 25 field goals, making 14. He still needs to improve his long-range shooting (he made 30.4% of his three-point shots last season), but judging from last week's performance, Butler looks ready to battle Boston College guard Troy Bell for the Big East player of the year award this season. "I'm starting to feel like a dominant player," says the 21-year-old Butler. "I know if I can go to me hole against these guys [from the U.S. team], I can do it against anybody."
Given Butler's past, it's remarkable that he should have such a bright future. While growing up in Racine, Wis., he was immersed in a life of gangs and crime, and at age 14 he was arrested for possession of cocaine and a gun. He subsequently served 18 months in a juvenile correction facility, a stint that included 1� weeks in solitary confinement for fighting. "Man, that killed me," he says. "It was just a room and a bed. A little light came through a small window on the door, but everything else was dark." Butler was released in the fall of 1996 and enrolled in January '97 as a sophomore at Racine's Park High.
He played only three games for Park High's varsity that year but earned all-state honors the next season after averaging 24.3 points and 11.1 rebounds. He transferred to Maine Central Institute, a basketball powerhouse, for his senior year and a postgraduate year. By the time he arrived at UConn last fall, he was one of the nation's top recruits.
Faced with having to support his six-year-old daughter, Camry, who lives with her mother in Wisconsin, Butler says he came "real close" this spring to entering the NBA draft before deciding he wasn't ready. He has spent much of the last two months running laps with members of the Huskies' track team and hoisting hundreds of jump shots a day in Gampel Pavilion. Now Butler believes he's ready to shine. "I wasted 18 months of my life, and I can't get that back," he says, "but I know what to do with the rest of it."
New Kind of Experience
During his four years as DePaul's coach, Pat Kennedy has lost two sophomores ( Quentin Richardson and Steven Hunter), two juniors (Paul McPherson and Bobby Simmons) and one high school signee ( Eddy Curry) to the NBA draft. So instead of traveling last week to Orlando or Las Vegas, where the summer's two biggest high school recruiting showcases were being held, Kennedy split his time between Tulsa and Terre Haute, Ind., where several hundred of the nation's top junior college players were on display. "This is the first time in almost 30 years of coaching I've been at a junior college event during the summer," Kennedy said last Thursday in Tulsa, where Jerry Mullen, a former juco coach, was holding a camp at Oral Roberts. "People have been joking that soon everybody will be here except for Stanford and Duke."
Indeed, with high schoolers and collegians bolting to the pros in record numbers, college coaches are turning increasingly to junior colleges in search of players who have talent and experience. Kennedy, in fact, plans to recruit jucos exclusively every other year so his team won't ever be too young. "Today, you have to look everywhere you can for players," says Kansas coach Roy Williams, who also attended his first juco summer event last week. "The landscape is definitely changing."
The summer's most heated juco recruiting battle is over Antwain Barbour, a spindly 6'5" sophomore at Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill. A native of Elizabethtown, Ky., Barbour, who failed to qualify academically for Division I out of high school, was a first team All-America and earned MVP honors at the national junior college championships last March. He was the sole juco invitee to the USA Basketball trials in Colorado Springs in early June and is a finalist to play for the U.S. at the World University Games in Beijing later this month. Kentucky, Louisville and Cincinnati are angling for Barbour's services, but the team to beat may be UNLV because Jay Spoonhour, who was Wabash Valley's coach last year, is now a Runnin' Rebels assistant under his father, Charlie.