INDIANAPOLIS — The crutches were for Da’Sean Butler but they could have been for the entire state, which will limp into the mines and the factories on another blue Monday, their basketball team once again having limped away from the NCAA Tournament in defeat.
It ended, the season and Da’Sean Butler’s marvelous career, in a heap on a hardwood floor laid atop a football field. It was a painful end, for the team, for the state and for Butler, who found himself unable to rescue his team and his teammates one more time.
“I’d do anything for the last 14 minutes back,” he said as he sat in a quiet West Virginia locker room following a 78-57 defeat to Duke in the national semifinal.
But with as many miracles as Butler performed in this All-American season, turning back time is not one of them.
The end to his career and, for all intents and purposes, the 2009-2010 basketball season, came with 8:59 to play. It came with a slip and a thud, Butler driving the baseline. His path to the basket was cut off and … well, let’s let him tell you.
“I tried to make a move and there was water on the floor — sweat — and I slipped.”
He was caught in an awkward position — not as awkward as was the 15-point deficit WVU faced at the moment, but awkward.
“My knee buckled a little,” Butler said.
The pain was instantaneous, as was the fear. He writhed on the floor in pain, players standing over him until the trainer, Randy Meador, arrived.
“It was 60-40 me being scared and the pain. I was terrified,” he admitted. “I’d seen friends go down with a hurt knee. I saw Cam (Thoroughman) do it.”
He said he tried to move it but couldn’t, at least not until Meador made him move it.
Walking was out of the question at the moment, so they helped him off the court, freshman Deniz Kilicli giving him some help with a student trainer.
“It was painful to watch him,” guard Joe Mazzulla said. “He worked so hard for all he got. You just ask why?”
Not that it mattered in the game, for Duke was beating West Virginia every possible way.
And the word was that it was nothing more severe than a sprained knee, not bad enough to keep Butler from walking in the locker room.
“I wasn’t going very fast,” Butler said.
And when it was over his coach, Bob Huggins, went to him.
“I’m sorry,” Butler said, feeling the need to apologize.
Why this man who scored 2,095 career points, who hit six game-winning shots his senior year felt the need to apologize is beyond belief, but that is the kind of kid — no, make that man — Da’Sean Butler is.
“He did so much for me,” Butler said, when asked to explain why he felt an apology was necessary. “The one thing I wanted to give him, I couldn’t get for him.”
That, of course, is the national championship that Huggins has never won and that has eluded WVU throughout its history.
Huggins, of course, would have nothing of an apology.
“Don’t be sorry,” Huggins said, then added warmly, “I love you.”
It was another sign of how Huggins has come to care for this team, a team he didn’t fully recruit, but a team that has won him over as much as he has won them over.
And Butler is at the head of the class.
“I started coaching Da’Sean when he was a sophomore. Joe Alexander had the breakout year and they told me Da’Sean was very happy kind of being Joe’s sidekick. Then, in his junior year, I think the first exhibition game he got 36 or 38 and was in the locker room apologizing that he shot the ball too much, he didn’t get his teammates involved.”
Huggins didn’t want to hear that.
“Come here, man,” Huggins said. “If we’re going to have any chance, you’re going to have to score the ball for us.’ You know, he’s done it.”
Huggins looks at in the proper light.
“I mean, you’re the third leading scorer behind Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley, you’ve had a heck of a career. And he’s done it with class, he’s done it with dignity,” Huggins said.
This is the kind of dignity Huggins talked about. Butler was besieged by interview requests last week, but took time out to go to the hospital to visit a woman who had a heart attack during the second half of the Kentucky game, a woman who wouldn’t leave her house despite the heart attack until the game was over.
“He left after doing media pretty much all day, went to the hospital, spent an hour with the lady talking to her and thanking her for how much the fans and how much her support means to him,” Huggins said.
Talk about deserving a better fate than a busted knee and a broken dream.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.