- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Two years ago coach Thad Matta was on the road recruiting when he got a conference call from his assistants, who were back in Columbus conducting preseason workouts. "They said, 'You better find a guard, because Jamar Butler can't play,'" recalls Matta, who had just taken the job. "He was only going five miles per hour, while his gauge went to 100. He had no idea what he was capable of doing."
A few years under Matta's tutelage have opened Butler's eyes. "When I saw how hard [former guard] Je'Kel Foster went in a workout, it clicked for me: That's what it takes to be good player in college," says the junior guard from Lima, Ohio. Since then Butler has improved every aspect of his game, most notably his help defense and his long-range shooting. (His freshman year he shot 23.0% from the three-point line; last season he shot 41.4%.) His scoring increased from 3.6 points per game in 2004--05 to 10.1 last year, and he had a 2.53 assist-to-turnover ratio, earning third-team All-Big Ten honors as well as a spot among the preseason Wooden Award candidates for '06--07.
"Jamar is a great example for our younger guys," says Matta. "He came in here as Ohio's Mr. Basketball but didn't have a work ethic. It took him a while to adjust to the college game, but he has done a phenomenal job."
Those "younger guys" would be the four freshmen of the much-ballyhooed Thad Five recruiting class. They include guards Daequan Cook and Mike Conley Jr., and guard-forward David Lighty--as well as Conley's better-known teammate from Indianapolis's Lawrence North High, 7-foot Greg Oden. As talented as they are, the freshmen face a steep learning curve in addition to an unforeseen obstacle: After undergoing off-season surgery to repair a ligament in his right wrist, Oden has had only limited practice time and won't play until after Jan. 1.
With only nine scholarship players, Matta will rely on all four freshmen as well as 6'9" junior college transfer Othello Hunter, a power forward. "We're trying to teach these guys how to compete at this level," says Matta. "I find myself having to slow down. We're trying to get consistency over greatness."
Butler, the only returning full-time starter from last year's Big Ten title team, has been the leader on the court and the mother hen off it. One weekend in September he had the whole team up to his parents' house to celebrate his 21st birthday. "That helped us get closer because it got us out of the basketball world and into the real world," says senior guard Ron Lewis. "It showed we have great camaraderie anywhere."
They'll need it, because real-world basketball (without their 7-footer) is about to begin.
RETURNING STARTER *JUNIOR COLLEGE STATS ?HIGH SCHOOL STATS